Category Archive: Political Science
Comments Off on Where did the presidency get all these powers? From Congress.
In my previous column, I noted that if you go through Article II of the Constitution, “You might be surprised by how little power the executive actually has,” but that over the decades the legislative branch has willingly ceded much of its power to the president.
When we learn about the Constitution in school, we are told that the separation of powers is a feature intended to keep any one branch from becoming too powerful.
The legislature passes laws, but the executive can veto them. Presidential vetoes can be overridden, but the judiciary can invalidate laws too.
The executive has administrative authority, but this can be changed via new legislation, and executive action is also subject to being found unconstitutional.
Judicial interpretations can have their effective meanings mooted by new legislation, and depend for their makeup on executive appointment and legislative confirmation.
So each branch has some powers, but still can have its designs thwarted by the other two. Each branch’s attempts to conserve its own sphere of authority results in a limitation of the others’ authority.
Taken as a whole, this system limits the power of the federal government, to the benefit of state governments and individual rights.
Given this analysis, it seems counter-intuitive that the legislature would acquiesce to expanded executive authority.
But nonetheless, it has. Congress has effectively given up its power to declare war, preferring to be led by the executive branch on the deployment of force. It has ceded large portions of its domestic law-making prerogative to executive branch regulatory agencies. It has acquiesced in executive branch interference in financial markets, about which Article II says nothing whatsoever.
Why would the legislature want the executive to have more power? Why would they voluntarily cede some of their power?
No Power, No Blame
My working hypothesis is that they have structural incentives which make it attractive to do so, namely the dynamics of reelection. They like having power, but it’s possible that by giving away some of their power, it’s easier to keep the rest. If that were true, it would make sense to let the executive have more powers.
It limits the scope of things for which the individual legislator can be held accountable to his or her constituents, making it easier to secure reelection.
Having power, after all, is of no use if you can’t maintain it. With an incumbent-reelection rate of around 90%, it’s clear that staying in office is one of legislators’ main values. If you can stay in office for decades, what difference would it make that you’re responsible for fewer things?
If the executive’s policies go well, legislators can position themselves as part of the team; if they go poorly, they can either claim to have opposed them, or at worst suffer only a greatly diffused share of the blame.
The lightning-rod status of the executive means that people’s ire (and praise) mainly attaches to the presidency, not to the legislators. An individual legislator’s agenda may be hindered by a strong executive, but this will ultimately be less bad for that legislator than failing to secure reelection, and the legislative body as a whole is insulated from accountability.
Learn More: Constitutional crisis or constitution at work?
As I argued last time, this is very bad for the republic – it leads to gross violations of individual liberty with far less accountability and much more difficult redress. But it’s very good for presidents, who find themselves empowered in ways George Washington could scarcely have imagined, and for legislators, who can stay in office almost indefinitely.
It’s hard to imagine what circumstances would produce sufficient incentive for legislators to reclaim the power they have given away. I’ve heard it suggested that term limits would do this. I suspect that’s true, but it’s even harder to see what incentives would lead them to propose those.
Comments Off on Reddit AMA with Lauren Hall, scholar of women and the family
Lauren Hall is associate professor of political science at Rochester Institute of Technology. She is the author of Family and the Politics of Moderation (Baylor University Press, 2014). Her current research is on the politics of women and the family in classical liberalism, and she also writes on related areas in evolutionary theory and bioethics.
Professor Hall has previously appeared on Learn Liberty in Choice and Change: How to Close the Gender Gap and Bridging the Gender Gap: The Problems with Parental Leave.
She is also a regular contributor to the Learn Liberty Blog, where you can find her recent article in honor of Women’s History Month, “Remembering the forgotten women, victims of government.”
Join us for a conversation on Reddit this Wednesday, March 29th, at 3:00pm EST, where you can ask her anything!
Comments Off on Stop toxic partisan posts: Take the social media pledge.
In the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election, social media was still kind of in its infancy. I was new to Facebook, I wasn’t yet on Twitter, and I didn’t have a YouTube channel. I’d never heard of Reddit.
That has changed massively since then, and social media toxicity is the topic du jour among the chattering class. It raises an interesting problem. Some of what gets shared on social media as part of an election cycle is thoughtful and substantive. More of it, though, is either tribal drum-beating or outright partisan bleating. I fear that this will get worse in the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election. What can we do about it?
In his book The Ethics of Voting, the philosopher Jason Brennan discusses the problem of “polluting the polls,” which voters do when they cast votes that do not reflect a justified belief that they are contributing to the common good (see Brennan’s book for the full argument).
Learn More: Debate: Is democracy overrated? Yes.
In the same way, we’re polluting the public forum when we pass along or share bits of commentary and information of dubious intellectual value.
Indeed, I’m not convinced that keeping a keen eye on partisan politics — especially in a presidential election — is really such a good use of time and energy. First, your presidential vote won’t matter. Even if you live in a swing state, the likelihood that your vote will determine the outcome of the election is effectively zero. Your vote is even less relevant (for purposes of deciding the election, anyway) if you live in states like California or Texas, which are virtual locks for the Democratic and Republican candidates respectively in every election.
When you participate in partisan bomb-throwing, you forgo the opportunity to read, write, or do something much more constructive. But what could be more constructive than passing around and dwelling on articles claiming to have unearthed dirt on candidate Bad Guy? The answer is “just about anything.”
How do you know yer doin’ it wrong? There’s no clear answer, but here’s my social media pledge for doin’ it right:
Art Carden’s Social Media Pledge
Can the content of the piece be summarized as follows?
- is the next best thing to Jesus
- is the Antichrist
- is a secret Muslim
- hates poor people
- hates America
- is a corporate puppet
- is otherwise a jackass
(Circle all that apply.)
If so, I will not share it, I will not comment on it, I will not “like” it, I will not tweet it, and I will not submit it to Reddit. I might even unfriend you or hide you from my news feed.
This is definitely an issue in which there is none righteous — no, not one. My own hands are dirty and my own heart is impure; however, I have seen the light. I repent.
My time is too precious and the issues at stake are too important to be passed through the gauntlet of partisan name-calling. The next time you’re tempted to “like” or “share” what amounts to nothing more than incendiary muckraking, resist. The world will be a better place for it. Be sure to “share” if you agree.
Comments Off on Democracy rewards those who lust for power.
“Greed is good.” After a few years in economics, the goodness of greed seems like common sense. But it’s not. In a randomly selected social environment, greed is brutal. If you’re carrying a bag of gold and meet a well-armed stranger in a remote jungle, you wouldn’t say, “As long as he’s greedy, I have nothing to worry about.” The knowledge that Nigerian spammers are greedy doesn’t incline you to send them your money. If you were looking for a caretaker for your elderly mother, discovering that a job candidate is “extremely greedy” would be a strong mark against him. As Marge Gunderson sadly muses at the end of Fargo, “So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that?”
What economics teaches is not that greed is good, but that good incentives transform this questionable motive into awesome results. Greed plus property rights plus competition plus rationality plus reputation is good. Greed alone is film noir.
In Public Choice, also known as “economics of politics,” we usually assume that politicians are motivated not by greed, but by power-hunger. Of course, we rarely utter the word “power-hunger.” Instead, we call it “vote maximization,” just as we call greed “profit maximization.” But when Public Choice pictures politicians, it pictures humans filled with lust for power.
Is this a reasonable picture of politicians’ psyches? Absolutely. That politicians crave power is as undeniable as that businesspeople crave profits. If you look at political history before the rise of democracy, we see virtually nothing other than dictators struggling to cement their power internally and expand their power externally. When these dictators lost wars, they lost territory and subjects, because virtually every dictators wanted to rule over as much land and as many people as possible.
Under democracy, politicians are less candid about their motives; they need us to like them, and power-hunger is not likeable. But given its ubiquity throughout most of political history, can we really believe that the motive of power-hunger is no longer paramount? One of my favorite political insiders privately calls politicians of both parties “psychopaths” – and he’s on to something. Rising high on the pyramid of power is hard unless love of power fuels your ascent.
In a randomly-selected social environment, power-hunger – like greed – is brutal. Just look at the history of warfare in all its hideousness – the endless bloodbaths over slivers of territory. Remember how leaders terrorized their rivals, their potential rivals, their imagined rivals. It’s sickening. If Fargo were a war story, and Marge Gunderson hunted war criminals, she might have sadly mused, “So that was Sarajevo on the floor in there. And I guess those were your accomplices in the mass grave. And those three hundred thousand people in Bosnia. And for what? For a little bit of power. There’s more to life than a little power, you know. Don’t you know that?”
In dictatorships, the causal chain from power-hunger to bad results is obvious. The fundamental question of Public Choice is: Does democracy motivate power-hungry politicians to do good despite their bad intentions? My admirable nemesis, Donald Wittman, tirelessly argues Yes, but to no avail. Democracy out-performs dictatorship, but that’s damning with faint praise.
Once you thank the stars you aren’t ruled by Louis XIV or Lenin, a grim truth remains: democracy gives power-hungry politicians far worse incentives than the market gives greedy businesspeople. Above all, voters – unlike consumers – have no incentive to be rational, spurring power-hungry politicians to preach and practice endless demagoguery. It’s gotten worse lately, but it’s always been terrible. Democracy hasn’t turned politicians into decent human beings; it’s only gilded their age-old power lust with altruistic hypocrisy.
So what can we do about our predicament? There are no easy answers, but I know where to start. Like alcoholics, we must admit we have a problem. Throughout history and around the world, the wicked rule. We should stop admiring them – especially the politicians on “our side” – and see them for the reprobates they are.
Comments Off on How birthright citizenship made America great
The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted 149 years ago on July 9, provides for the grant of birthright citizenship to the American-born children of immigrants, regardless of their legal status. Troublingly, many have criticized this constitutional right lately. But critics need to know how valuable it is. Perhaps most importantly, one major unintentional benefit of the Fourteenth Amendment is that it speeds assimilation for children of immigrants.
Immigrants to the United States assimilate very quickly. Speaking of America’s openness to immigrants, former President Ronald Reagan stated, “An immigrant can live in France but not become a Frenchman; he can live in Germany but not become a German; he can live in Japan but not become Japanese, but anyone from any part of the world can come to America and become an American.”
Recent mammoth research projects on immigrant assimilation carried out by the National Academy of Sciences and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development bear out President Reagan’s quote. To sum up his own research that comes to similar conclusions, University of Washington professor Jacob Vigdor wrote, “Basic indicators of assimilation, from naturalization to English ability, are if anything stronger now than they were a century ago.”
Americans, immigrants, and their descendants become Americans. Fortunately, our system of birthright citizenship makes that assimilation and integration process even easier. Those who want to curtail birthright citizenship need only look at societies that accept large numbers of immigrants but don’t extend birthright citizenship to their children. The results there are often not pretty.
The History of Birthright Citizenship
First, a little bit of history. The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted in the aftermath of the Civil War to guarantee that freed slaves and others would have constitutional rights vis-à-vis their state governments. The amendment included the citizenship clause to overrule the 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott v. Sandford decision that, in part, stated black Americans could never become citizens.
The citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This clause was not a departure from Anglo-American common law, which embraced birthright citizenship going back centuries.
The debate over the Fourteenth Amendment’s passage made it clear that both proponents and opponents understood it would extend citizenship to the children of Asian and other non-white immigrants who were, under the existing immigration law, unable to naturalize. Sen. Jacob Howard introduced the citizenship clause. During Senate debate, he said it “will not, of course, include persons in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons” (emphasis added).
A provision similar to the citizenship clause appeared in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, two years prior to the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. In President Johnson’s list of complaints he sent to Congress along with his veto of that act, he listed the citizenship clause. He griped, “This provision comprehends the Chinese of the Pacific States, Indians subject to taxation, the people called Gipsies, as well as the entire race designated as blacks, people of color, negroes, mulattoes, and persons of African blood. Every individual of these races, born in the United States, is by the bill made a citizen of the United States.”
Denying Birthright Citizenship Is Dangerous
The U.S. rule of birthright citizenship offers a stark contrast to policies pursued in Germany and Japan, where the children of immigrants are either denied citizenship or face a much harder path toward obtaining it.
The German guest-worker program of the 1950s through the 1970s admitted large numbers of Turks, Tunisians, Portuguese, and others to work in their growing economy. Originally, the Germans had no intention of letting the workers and their families stay permanently, but many, especially the Turks, did stay. Their German-born children were not allowed to become citizens. The same was true in Japan, where the Korean minority, called zainichi, was barred from citizenship for generations despite being born in Japan.
In both countries, the results were tragic. The lack of birthright citizenship created a legal underclass of resentful and displaced young people who were officially discriminated against in the government-run education system and had tenuous allegiance to the country in which they were born. After four generations in Japan, ethnic Koreans still self-identify as foreign. In both countries, these noncitizen youths are more prone to crime and extreme political ideologies like Islamism or communism.
Their failure to naturalize the Turks contrasts with Germany’s Aussiedler system that “repatriated” ethnic Germans and their families living in the territory of the Soviet Union, immediately granting them citizenship by virtue of their blood connection to Germany. Aussliedler inflows peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when approximately 2.2 million ancestral Germans were admitted and given citizenship. Germany partly rectified its system in 1999, extending citizenship to Turks and creating some legal categories that can gain citizenship through birthright.
Equality Breeds Contentment
Youths born to noncitizen immigrants in countries without birthright citizenship have little legal stake in the nations they were born in but also have no place to go. Many might gain citizenship through the ethnicity of their parents in Korea or Turkey, but with no connections to those nations, citizenship there is meaningless.
In the United States, by contrast, children of immigrants are legally on the same playing field as children born to American citizens. Both can serve in the military, purchase firearms, serve on juries, and be treated the same by the legal system. That is one reason why 89 percent of second-generation Hispanics and 96 percent of third-generation Hispanics have described themselves as American only. “Hispanic-American” or “Mexican-American” is still popular among some after several generations, just as “Italian-American” still survives, but these Americans do not view themselves as foreigners.
The likelihood of amending the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause is small, but that amendment should be defended because of how well it has aided immigrant assimilation in the United States. Remembering the Fourteenth Amendment as a correction to previous racist policies and court decisions is essential, but that history should not blind us to its pro-assimilation impact on the descendants of America’s immigrants.
Comments Off on Entitlement reform key to fixing America’s fiscal future
In his first address to Congress, President Trump lamented that “the past Administration has put on more new debt than nearly all other Presidents combined.” With federal debt approaching $20 trillion, he is right to be concerned about the rapid accumulation in recent years.
However, the president did not mention of Medicare and Social Security, two of the largest and fastest-growing federal programs, and he has previously stated that he sees no reason to reduce spending on these programs. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin reiterated last week, “We are not touching [entitlements] now, so don’t expect to see that as part of this budget.”
Without substantive reform, it will be exceedingly difficult to address the country’s long-term fiscal problems, and it will only get harder if needed changes are delayed.
Medicare and Social Security already account for roughly two-fifths of all federal outlays, and they will account for a growing share of the federal budget over the coming decade. Medicare, Social Security, and net interest payments on the debt will account for roughly 55 percent of federal outlays by 2027, an increase over their already significant share of 45 percent last year.
Source: Congressional Budget Office, “10-Year Budget Projections, January 2017,” Tables 1-2 and 1-3.
Entitlement spending growth is a major reason that budget deficits are projected to surge over the next decade. Although forecasting ten years in advance is notoriously difficult, the deficit is estimated to exceed $1.4 trillion by 2027 and accelerate further after that, with trillions added to the debt as a result. By 2045, debt held by the public will almost double, to 145 percent of GDP according to the Congressional Budget Office. It is practically inconceivable that politicians would not step in before this happened. However, if left unaddressed. debt at these levels would severely hamper economic growth, reduce living standards, and put increasing amounts of pressure on net interest payments and other areas of the federal budget.
Source: Congressional Budget Office, “Long Term Budget Projections, January 2017,” Supplemental Table 1. Annual Data Underlying Key Projections in CBO’s Extended Baseline.
Efforts to root out waste, fraud, and abuse, or to increase government’s efficiency are certainly worth pursuing, but proposals that eschew any kind of entitlement reform will leave the main drivers of debt in the long-term untouched.
Similarly, reducing regulatory barriers, improving the tax code, and generally developing a policy framework that allows the economy grow more rapidly are good ideas. To some extent, this could attenuate structural fiscal issues, but even higher rates of growth cannot make them go away. According to one recent estimate, productivity growth would need to be twice projected levels just to stabilize the debt at slightly lower levels as a percent of GDP. Doubling productivity growth rates would be an impressive accomplishment, but there is a limit to how much it can help the country get out of its debt problem.
This is why entitlement reform is key. The unsustainable nature of these programs face mean that some reforms will have to be implemented: the only questions are when and what kind of changes will be made. The longer these reforms are put off, the inevitable changes will by necessity be larger and more abrupt.
For example, the Social Security Trustees estimate that an immediate and permanent benefit reduction of 16 percent for all beneficiaries would be enough to make the program solvent for the full 75-year projection. If nothing is done until the trust fund becomes insolvent in 2034, an immediate 21 percent reduction in benefits would be necessary.
Phasing in a gradual increase in the retirement age indexed to increases with longevity, or using the chained CPI for cost of living adjustments are measures that could go some way to making the program sustainable without sudden, significant benefits or tax increases. Kicking the can down the road will only increase the magnitude of eventual disruption, when changes will have to be concentrated in fewer years and the burden will fall on fewer people.
Part of the political difficulty stems from the public. People are wary of reforms that could affect their benefits, and they lack understanding regarding which programs are the drivers of the country’s debt. In a recent poll, 46 percent of respondents said they thought foreign aid, which accounts for roughly one percent of the federal budget, contributes “a great deal” to the national debt, a higher proportion than for any of the other programs polled. It is laudable to take a hard look at spending at all agencies and to excise inefficient or wasteful spending, this alone will not be enough to improve the overall fiscal picture.
Without real reform, the important task of placing entitlement programs back on a sustainable trajectory will be left for later generations—at which point the country will be farther down this unsustainable path.
Charles Hughes is a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on twitter @CharlesHHughes.
Comments Off on The moral dimensions of liberty; Why goodness requires freedom
What is the role of human freedom in morality? It’s a question I’ve been pondering and researching since graduate school. C.S. Lewis once explained the different aspects of morality by using the metaphor of a flotilla. Every ship must be well run on its own, but each must also coordinate with all the others so that they avoid collisions and stay in formation. Finally, the fleet must be set on a destination, which constitutes the purpose of their journey. This is a helpful way to think about morality regarding self, others, and our ultimate end.
The personal aspect of morality — which might more properly be called ethics — is about the cultivation of virtue: the development of character traits so that choosing the good becomes a matter of habit. An efficient and well run ship is like a virtuous person: both have regularized the internal practices necessary to be a good example of what it is. There is one crucial difference, however: a ship’s crew is run hierarchically, under the command of a captain. But a person, in order to be truly virtuous, must be free to cultivate the virtues, or not. There is no virtue in being temperate when you are being forced not to indulge. There is no virtue in being charitable when someone is forcing you to give up what is yours. Virtue can be guided by cultural traditions and social institutions, but it cannot be coerced. A virtuous man must also be a free man.
More by Prof. Salter: Buy ’em out – a new strategy for cutting government
The interpersonal aspect of morality is more about rule following. These rules are important because, like the rules governing ships in a fleet, they prevent us from “colliding” with each other. They permit us to live together in harmony, and they also make us recognize, apart from the mere consequences to ourselves, the rights of others. Here too, liberty is essential. When some people are permitted to dominate others, they treat others as merely means to an end, rather than ends in themselves. Not only does this fail to honor the basic dignity within each person, it also stifles the flourishing of human potential and creativity. A society of domination will be a society that never reaches its full potential in the human sciences, physical sciences, and creative arts. Liberty affords us the greatest space possible to pursue our projects, in a way that enables us to live well with one another.
Finally, there is the question of ultimate ends. Why are we all here? Where are we going? This will necessarily be the most contentious, since the idea of a final end for man often goes in tandem with a specifically religious view of man’s vocation. As a Christian, this is the position I hold. But having a final end does not obviate the need for liberty. Freedom remains essential. To paraphrase Lord Acton, freedom is so precious that God will not override it, even when we badly misuse that freedom. In other words, we can’t get where we’re going if we’re not free to walk the road. I think this is a point on which religious, spiritual, agnostic, or even atheist persons can agree.
Thus, freedom is essential to a genuinely good human life at all the levels of morality. In my view, the classical liberal tradition remains the keeper of the flame of liberty, and I want to spend the rest of my career advancing classical liberalism as a research program. I look forward to sharing with you what I find.
Comments Off on Andrew Jackson is a bad role model for the president
Donald Trump added a portrait of Andrew Jackson to the White House Oval Office shortly after his inauguration. Why Jackson?
Well, Jackson’s defeat of incumbent John Quincy Adams in the 1828 election was the first great US political upset in which an anti-establishment candidate defeated an insider. This comparison no doubt pleases the man who kept Hillary Clinton from the White House.
Like Trump, Jackson also styled himself as a champion of the “common man,” and that’s a distinction that somehow follows him to this day. But does Jackson deserve to be remembered so fondly as the one who put power in the hands of the people? Let’s break down some of his greatest hits.
- Egalitarian Reforms. The Jacksonian Era was typified by a reforming zeal, including movements for the abolition of slavery and the rights of women. While these movements might have used egalitarian Jacksonian rhetoric, they had little to do with the real Andrew Jackson, who both owned slaves and subscribed to an already outdated cult of masculinity preoccupied with, among other things, defending public female virtue. (The man loved a good duel.)
- American Indian Removal. Jackson was the architect of the compulsory removal of Native Americans from their legal homes. This was a national plan for ethnic cleansing, coupled with the forcible redistribution of property from its rightful owners.
- Checks and Balances. Jackson’s Indian removal policy also ignored the system of checks and balances inherent in the federal system, directly defying the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1831 case Cherokee Nation v. State of Georgia. Jackson did, however, stop short of calling Chief Justice John Marshall a “so-called judge.”
- The National Bank. The federal government had overreached its powers in creating the Second National Bank, and Jackson killed that institution. His dedication to defeating the bank, however, was driven by personal animosity more than sound intellectual foundations. (It wasn’t enough for Jackson’s enemies to lose; they had to be destroyed, and he used his power as president to wreak that destruction.) Jackson overstepped his own constitutional authority in his attack, and fighting one wrong with another is hardly great policy.
- State Nullification. Similarly, Jackson’s action against state nullification, when South Carolina sought to invalidate the federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 on the grounds that they were unconstitutional, seems to have been less about principle than about his personal split with his former vice president, John C. Calhoun. Jackson’s stance against states’ rights aided the evolution of a powerful national government based on vigorous military suppression, a trademark of the Jacksonian presidency.
- Spoils System. Jackson’s embrace of the spoils system, rewarding his supporters (or cronies) with political positions, further concentrated and entrenched his and later presidents’ executive power.
What is the takeaway here? Rather than decentralizing power or returning it to the people, Jackson magnified his own. As a matter of fact, he claimed that he embodied the people in the same way that Louis XIV believed that he was France, earning him the title “King Andrew I” from his opponents.
In short, for those who support liberty, Trump has chosen a troubling model for his presidency.
This makes Thomas Jefferson’s words to Daniel Webster in 1824 all the more important to remember:
I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place. He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief. His passions are terrible. When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage. His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.
Want more to explore? Check out the resources below.
- “The Wild Inauguration of Andrew Jackson, Trump’s Populist Predecessor” by Jonah Engel Bromwich in The New York Times, January 20, 2017
- “Not the Same Old Hickory: The Contested Legacy of Andrew Jackson” by Amy H. Sturgis in Reason, May 2004
- “Andrew Jackson: The First Imperial President”
Comments Off on The meaning of American populism
The people had finally found their leader, a champion for those who had built the country with their hard work and yet now believed themselves to be silenced and ignored — left behind by the artificial currents of contemporary life. He would make their voices heard again. They didn’t think of themselves as angry — at least not without a good cause — but they were no longer going to go gently into that political good night.
The year was 1896, and a new century loomed just four years away. They believed they had one last chance to change the errant course on which the country was set, and William Jennings Bryan was ready to lead them.
Manning the Barricades
With the triumph of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, magazines from Vanity Fair to The Economist suddenly began writing about populism and trying to analyze that amorphous identity that periodically returns to American politics. Far less defined than a political movement or agenda, American populism is an impulse, rooted in Jeffersonian individualism and animated by a conviction that something essential in our culture is under siege by powerful currents in the wider world.
While politicians may choose to use populist rhetoric to rally their voters, it’s not an identity that many would choose on their own, because it’s borne of crisis, understood by those who take it up as being nothing less than a state of emergency. Populism amounts to a last desperate manning of the barricades, when all others have decided to jettison something that, in a significant number of hearts, is still worth fighting for.
The populism of the 1890s came at a crucial moment of transition from one economic framework to the next, as an America of farmers and craftsmen was giving way to an America of industrial workers, leviathan corporations, and new immigrants. Today, the country faces another transition to a more interconnected and, some say, post-national world, and populists have again reappeared, fearful of rocky shoals along the passage. The impulse is no longer tied to the agrarian identity and way of life that was so tenaciously defended by populists at the close of the 19th century, but it is now expressed by those for whom something just as sacred is at stake.
More than economic or political power, cultural power — the power to define what ought to be the true iconic representation of America, from which comes ideas of right and wrong — has always lain at the heart of populism, even if more specific economic concerns are easier to identify. This is why the emergence of a multi-billionaire as populist champion isn’t as baffling as it would be if the primary engine was class-based resentment of the wealthy (and it’s why Bernie Sanders is actually less of a populist than Trump).
Learn More: Donald Trump: The avatar of democracy
As historian Alan Brinkley showed in his book Voices of Protest, despite the ways that the populist impulse has varied among its adherents throughout the decades, its “central, animating spirit” remained the determination to restore “to the individual the control of his life and livelihood.” Brinkley notes that Depression-era rousers like Huey Long and Charles Coughlin connected “their messages so clearly with the residual appeal of the populist tradition,” and future historians will undoubtedly note the same about Donald Trump.
But his current success shows that its appeal is not merely residual but continues to animate millions of people. The lesson of Trump’s surprise victory is that populism remains at its core an evergreen cultural force that is as intertwined with our ideas about democracy as notions about voting, representation, civil rights, or economic fairness.
Today’s drive toward populism is not primarily because of big business or big banking, but because of a perceived threat of similar size and danger to the concept of Jeffersonian individualism. Now it is the cultural triumph of identity politics that’s pushing people toward populism, as surely as monopoly and industrialization did 120 years ago. Ascendant globalism is another: just as the farmers of the 1890s felt displaced from what they considered their time-honored position within the country’s culture and economy, those who recently rallied to the populist tone of the current president felt much the same.
In his 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Age of Reform, Richard Hofstadter mused that “While its special association with agrarian reforms has now become attenuated, I believe that populist thinking has survived in our own time, partly as an undercurrent of provincial resentments, popular and ‘democratic’ rebelliousness and suspiciousness, and nativism.”
Indeed, Hofstadter’s account of those who flocked to William Jennings Bryan in 1896 is a caustic one and caused an outcry among historians who had long looked upon the populists as virtuous Jeffersonian Democrats. But Hofstadter substantially changed the way the mainstream thinks about our periodic outbursts of populism, and today, charges of nativism, provincialism, and intolerance are even more commonly attributed to Trump’s supporters than to Bryan’s.
Canaries in the Coal Mine
I don’t believe populism is inevitably as xenophobic as that, but I do believe the impulse is inherently defensive. The Economist recently reported that populism in Alabama “has not always been driven by prejudice, as might be supposed.” Rather, explained the former director of the Alabama state archives, populism is always and everywhere fired by fears of “the rise of a new aristocracy,” and Alabamans who turned to populism were “not simply emotional victims of demagogues.”
Contemporary ideologies that divide people into grievance groups are a cultural echo of the process of industrialization that once divided people into competing economic classes. In both, the deck is stacked against the individual. The proper response to populism isn’t to dismiss it as fringe, bigoted, or anti-intellectual, but to remember that threats to individualism come from every angle, sometimes in unexpected ways. Populism is the canary in our political coal mine — a warning that individual liberty may be having its oxygen drained away. Those who are concerned about freedom should pay attention to it.
Comments Off on Vivien Kellems: “Please Indict Me!”
“All our liberties are due to men who, when their conscience has compelled them, have broken the laws of the land.”
So said William Kingdon Clifford, a 19th-century English mathematician and philosopher. Inspiring words, but did you catch the one glaring error? He forgot the women!
If Clifford had known Vivien Kellems, he wouldn’t have made that mistake.
Born in 1896 in Des Moines, Iowa, Kellems was a locomotive that never quit. Indeed, to continue the train analogy, she was a real-life Dagny Taggart, the railroad vice president protagonist of Atlas Shrugged. Before Kellems died in 1975, she could proudly look back on a life of service to her country as a successful entrepreneur, an accomplished public speaker, a political candidate more interested in educating than in winning, and, most famously, as a tireless opponent of the IRS and its tax code. Outspoken to the end, nobody ever accused her of hiding her light under a bushel.
While earning her bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Oregon in 1918, Kellems gave her classmates a dose of the spunk that would mark the next half-century of her life. She became the first and only female on the college debate team, humbling many men in a competition widely thought at the time to be for males only. She went on to earn a master’s in economics in 1921. Decades later, while in her 70s, she started work on a PhD at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The focus of her dissertation was the issue that made her a virtual household name in America: the income tax.
The Roaring Twenties were well under way when Kellems and her brother Edgar invented the Kellems cable grip, used for lifting and supporting electrical cables. With a thousand dollars she had saved and another thousand borrowed, she founded the Kellems Company in Stonington, Connecticut, in 1927 to manufacture and market the device. By the time World War II broke out, she was a wealthy woman with an intensely loyal following among her hundreds of employees.
When the war demanded grips to lift 2,700-pound artillery shells, Kellems innovated and ended up selling two million of the resulting product to the armed services. Doing business with the military also introduced her to the seamy side of government — the endless and often needless or duplicative paperwork, the meddlesome bureaucracy, the increasingly complicated and dubious tax code, and even a dangerous naiveté about foreign regimes.
Most Americans were reluctant to criticize Washington in the early years of the war. Other more pressing matters occupied us, as the Axis powers scored one victory after another. But when Kellems saw waste, bungling, and stupidity in government, she didn’t hesitate to speak out and make headlines. She was incensed by the US government’s shipping thousands of tons of vital materials to Stalin’s Soviet Union at a time when our own war effort demanded them. To a Chicago audience, she prophetically warned, “Mark my words. This temporary ally will soon pose a mortal threat to the United States and the entire free world.”
Roosevelt’s minions were not amused by Kellems’s very public disapproval. Her private correspondence was intercepted by the Office of Censorship (yes, we had one of those), then leaked to two newspaper columnists and a congressman friendly to the administration. Nothing in her letters was in any way incriminating, and no action was ever taken against her, but it was plain that the government wanted to embarrass and intimidate her into silence. It underestimated Kellems, big time.
As the tax burden soared, so did Kellems’s resentment of the confiscatory marginal rates (as high as 90 percent on personal and corporate income) and the bullying tactics of the “revenuers.” In speeches around the country, she ripped into FDR for promising lower taxes during his first presidential campaign in 1932, only to deliver relentlessly higher rates ever after. Treasury Secretary and FDR crony Henry Morgenthau hinted at treason charges and proceeded toward legal penalties against Kellems. Fortunately, those threats were sidelined by both the war’s end and a scandal that enveloped the Bureau of Internal Revenue (predecessor to the IRS). Thanks in part to Kellems and the women around the country that she personally stirred up, congressional investigations led to the indictment or voluntary retirements of hundreds of BIR employees for violating the very tax laws they were supposed to enforce.
Kellems could get fired up about intrusive government at any level. When the state of Connecticut passed a law in 1947 forbidding women to work after 10:00 p.m., she sprung into action. Her friend, the Hollywood movie star Gloria Swanson, describes what happened:
Charging “rank discrimination,” she brought several hundred women in to work at her factory one night, but no arrests were made. Finally, she got a job in an all-night diner and threatened to work there every night until the legislature acted. Two days later, the law was repealed.
The year 1948 is pivotal in the Kellems timeline. Franklin Roosevelt was three years gone and Harry Truman occupied the Oval Office. What started out as a temporary and “voluntary” wartime measure — tax withholding — was made permanent and compulsory. Kellems would have none of it. She was not about to become an unpaid tax collector for the feds without a fight.
In February 1948, she began paying her employees in full, which meant they had to cough up the required taxes and pay them directly to the federal government. Within days, she was on NBC’s new show Meet the Press — only the second woman to appear as a guest on the program. The withholding law, in her view, was unconstitutional. The very rationale for creating it — to make the costs of big government less visible to workers — was, in her mind, yet another reason to get rid of it. People needed to know what their government was costing them. Violating the law was the only way the issue could be settled once and for all:
If High Tax Harry wants me to get money for him, then he must appoint me an agent for the Internal Revenue Department. He must pay me a salary for my work, he must reimburse me for my expenses incurred in collecting that tax, and I want a badge!
She wrote to the Treasury secretary to inform him of her decision and added, “I respectfully request that you please indict me.”
Fearing an unfavorable ruling in the courts, the government dodged and weaved. The indictment never came. Instead, the IRS sent agents to her bank and seized the $6,100 it said was due.
Kellems fired back with a lawsuit against the government, and in 1951, a jury ordered the feds to return the money, with interest. She continued to press for a decision on constitutionality, and finally, in 1973, the United States Tax Court formally rejected her argument. Meanwhile, she had relented to prevent her company from going bankrupt from IRS seizures. With great reluctance, she began withholding taxes from her employees.
In 1952, she authored a book detailing her fight and the case against the income tax. Titled Toil, Taxes and Trouble, it’s still available. Powerful and entertaining at the same time, it’s full of insights about taxes and the proper role of government. In the words of Romaine D. Huret, author of the excellent 2014 book, Tax Resisters,
Kellems’s book explored the “brainwashing” of taxpayers. The income tax, she wrote, was a way for the government to deliberately “hide” from employees the payment of their taxes and thus to prevent them from becoming “tax-conscious.” Throughout the book, she identified the foes against which she was struggling with a vivid, and at times colloquial, vocabulary: they were the “tax grabbers and tax planners … yellow cowards, mangy little bureaucrats in Washington.”
In the 1960s, with the withholding issue still to be resolved, Kellems took up another tax crusade — the built-in penalty against single people. Income tax rates for an unmarried person were as much as 42 percent higher than those for married couples making the same income. Congress finally recognized her point, and in 1969, it gave her a partial victory by cutting the disparity to a maximum of 20 percent. Swanson wrote,
Vivien could quote passages from the Constitution by heart, recite the legislative history of obscure sections of the Internal Revenue Code, and do it all in a grandmotherly, finger-wagging manner that disarmed even the most experienced politicians.
The Bridgeport Post paid tribute to Kellems in an editorial. Lamentably, there may be no newspaper editor in Connecticut with the guts or the wisdom to print something like this today:
When it comes to possessing a spine of pure steel, we wonder if there is any man or woman in Connecticut who can match Miss Kellems. One lone woman against the whole U.S. government! If there are persons — and we know there are — who think she is simply a pugnacious person making a personal fight over the withholding tax, they are doing her a great injustice. Her interest is one of deep conviction and firm principle based on study of the history of the Constitution of the United States. She understands the circumstances which gave birth to this country, the firm realization of the founders that the power to tax is the power to destroy, and the steps which they took to prevent this power from being misused.
Kellems ran four times for public office in Connecticut, once for governor and three times for US Senate. Though she never won, she did something all too many candidates seldom do: she educated people. After a Kellems campaign, nobody could say she stood for what she thought people would fall for.
She never changed her mind about the income tax. The personal income tax forms that she filed for each of the last 10 years of her life were all blank. Apparently not even the IRS wanted to tangle again with this scrappy patriot.
Whether you agree or disagree with Vivien Kellems on the issues, you have to give her credit. She had principles — sound ones, in my estimation — and the courage to stand for them come hell or high water.
Comments Off on The House GOP leadership’s health care bill is ObamaCare-Lite — or worse
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised legislation that “fully repeals ObamaCare.” Monday night, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives released legislation it claims would repeal and replace ObamaCare. Tuesday afternoon, Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Capitol Hill to pressure members of Congress to support the bill. On Wednesday, two House Committees will begin to mark-up the legislation. House and Senate leaders are hoping for quick consideration and a signing ceremony, maybe by May, so they can move on to other things, like tax reform and confirming Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.
Everyone needs to take a step back. This bill is a train wreck waiting to happen.
The House leadership bill isn’t even a repeal bill. Not by a long shot. It would repeal far less of ObamaCare than the bill Republicans sent to President Obama one year ago. The ObamaCare regulations it retains are already causing insurance markets to collapse. It would allow that collapse to continue, and even accelerate the collapse. Republicans would then own whatever damage ObamaCare causes, such as when the law leaves seriously ill patients with no coverage at all. Congress would have to revisit ObamaCare again and again to address problems they failed to fix the first time around. ObamaCare would consume the rest of Congress’ and President Trump’s agenda. Delaying or dooming other priorities like tax reform, infrastructure spending, and Gorsuch. The fallout could dog Republicans all the way into 2018 and 2020, when it could lead to a Democratic wave election like the one we saw in 2008. Only then, Democrats won’t have ObamaCare on their mind but single-payer.
First, let’s look at how the main features of this bill fall short of repeal.
ObamaCare expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government covers a much larger share of the cost of covering Medicaid-expansion enrollees than enrollees in the “old” Medicaid program—currently 95 percent, bottoming out at 90 percent in 2020. So far, 31 states have chosen to implement the Medicaid expansion; 19 have declined.
The House leadership’s bill would not even start to repeal ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion until 2020, more than two and a half years from now, and even then would repeal it only one enrollee at a time. In 2020, states could no longer enroll new able-bodied adults into the Medicaid expansion. Yet the federal government would continue to pay for each and every continuously covered able-bodied adult who enrolled in the expansion before then. And it would do so at the enhanced ObamaCare matching rate, in perpetuity, until an enrollee leaves the program. If the House leadership has its way, we may be decades away from full repeal of the Medicaid expansion.
For the two-plus years between enactment and 2020, the House leadership bill would continue to allow states both to opt into the expansion and to go on an enrollment binge, for which the federal government could be paying for decades. It is likely that the number of states participating, and the number of people enrolled in the Medicaid expansion will be higher after “repeal” than before.
Which means the Medicaid expansion may never disappear at all. By 2020, the constituency for preserving the Medicaid expansion would be much larger than it is now. More states, more voters, and more special interests will resist repealing the expansion than do today. As I discuss below, Congress will likely be more Democratic than it is today.
When eventually we see a Congressional Budget Office score of the bill (House leadership has numbers, but they’re not sharing them), it may show a reduction in federal spending on the Medicaid expansion after 2020. I would not bet on that happening.
Currently, Congress matches states’ spending on their Medicaid programs. When a state spends $1 on its program, Congress contributes between $1 and $3. This creates a pay-for-dependence incentive. It encourages states to expand both enrollment and benefits far beyond what they would if states bore the full marginal cost.
The House leadership bill would reform the Medicaid program by converting it to a system of “per capita block grants.” It would give each state a fixed amount of money per enrollee, with the amount varying by the type of enrollee (aged, blind, disabled, children, non-expansion adults, and expansion adults).
A per-capita block grant would therefore resemble ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. States would get additional federal dollars for each additional person they enroll in their programs. But states would face the full marginal cost of providing new or existing benefits to enrollees. Just as ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion creates incentives for states to expand their programs to able-bodied adults, while reducing access to care for the aged, blind, disabled, children, and pregnant women, the House leadership bill would create (or preserve) an incentive to expand enrollment to less vulnerable populations while cutting benefits for more vulnerable populations.
Economists describe the basic architecture of ObamaCare’s overhaul of private health insurance as a three-legged stool. The three legs of the stool are (1) “community rating” price controls that force insurers to charge healthy and sick people of a given age the same premium, and only allow premiums to vary from older to younger enrollees by a ratio of 3 to one, (2) an individual mandate that penalizes taxpayers who do not purchase a government-designed health plan, and (3) subsidies to help low-income people purchase that compulsory, overpriced health insurance. The House leadership plan retains all three legs of the stool, as well as many other ObamaCare provisions designed to mitigate the damage done by the community-rating price controls.
The first thing the House leadership’s bill does is expand ObamaCare by appropriating funds for the law’s so-called “cost-sharing” subsidies, something no previous Congress has ever done.
The House leadership bill retains the very ObamaCare regulations that are threatening to destroy health insurance markets and leave millions with no coverage at all. ObamaCare’s community-rating price controls literally penalize insurers who offer quality coverage to patients with expensive conditions, creating a race to the bottom in insurance quality. Even worse, they have sparked a death spiral that has caused insurers to flee ObamaCare’s Exchanges nationwide, including driving all insurance companies from the market in 16 counties in eastern Tennessee. As of next year, 43,000 Tennesseans in those counties could have no way to obtain coverage. Nearly 3 million Exchange enrollees are just one more carrier exit from the same fate.
The leadership bill would modify ObamaCare’s community-rating price controls by expanding the age-rating bands (from 3:1 to 5:1) and allowing insurers to charge enrollees who wait until they are sick to purchase coverage an extra 30 percent (but only for one year). Even with these changes, however, premiums would remain high, ObamaCare would continue to make it easier for people to wait until they are sick to purchase coverage, and the law would continue to penalize high-quality coverage for the sick. In fact, the House leadership’s decision to leave ObamaCare’s community-rating price controls in place while relaxing its “essential health benefits” requirements would cause coverage for sick to deteriorate even faster than ObamaCare does.
It is because the House leadership would retain the community-rating price controls that they also end up retaining many other features of the law. Observers have started to notice that successive iterations of the bill look increasingly like ObamaCare.
For example, the House leadership bill retains and modifies another leg from the three-legged stool: ObamaCare’s advanceable, refundable, and means-tested tax credits for health insurance. Though they sound like tax cuts, ObamaCare’s tax credits are actually 94 percent government outlays and only 6 percent tax reduction. The House leadership’s tax credits are likely to be similarly lopsided.
House leaders are retaining all that government spending—again, we don’t yet know how much ObamaCare spending the bill retains—largely because retaining community rating drives premiums unnecessarily high. Ironically, due to congressional budget rules, the fact that there are tax credits in the bill makes it impossible for Republicans to repeal ObamaCare’s community-rating price controls and other regulations. The CBO reportedly has projected that if the bill repealed those regulations, the price of insurance would fall so much that many more people would take advantage of the tax credits, and the bill would run afoul of budget rules by increasing federal deficits. Republicans evidently cannot repeal ObamaCare’s regulations if they hold on to health-insurance tax credits.
The tax credits could create a very thorny problem for both House and Senate Republicans. The House leadership bill prohibits the use of its tax credits for health plans that cover abortion. Due to an arcane Senate rule, Democrats likely can and will strip any such restrictions from the bill before final passage. This means that if the House bill ever makes its way to President Trump’s desk, it could subsidize abortion even more than ObamaCare does.
To the extent the bill’s modified tax credits are tax reduction, however, they are the functional equivalent of ObamaCare’s individual mandate. The flip side of tax credits that are available solely to those who purchase health insurance is that those who do not purchase insurance must pay more to the IRS than those who do. Just like a mandate. And since the effective penalty is just an increase in the taxpayer’s income-tax liability, tax credits for health insurance are actually more coercive than ObamaCare’s individual mandate, because the IRS has many more tools it can use to collect the penalty.
Conservatives deny any similarities between an individual mandate and a tax credit for health insurance. But consider the following. ObamaCare’s individual mandate penalty for single adults is $695 or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater. Suppose that instead, Congress had simply enacted a tax with those features, and then come back and provided an equivalent tax credit for anyone who purchases health insurance. The end result would be identical to ObamaCare’s individual mandate. But which would it be, a tax credit or a mandate?
Like ObamaCare’s tax credits, the House leadership’s tax credits would involve burdensome projection and verification of the taxpayer’s income (taxpayers above a certain threshold are ineligible for credits) as well as whether the taxpayer has an offer of qualified health insurance from an employer (taxpayers with an offer of coverage from an employer are ineligible).
Finally, the House leadership creates a new program of matching grants to states to fund things like Exchange subsidies, insurer bailouts, high-risk pools, and perhaps a “public option,” even after Republicans spent years railing against many of these things. If states don’t use the money, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services can use the funds for insurer bailouts. The funding formula for this new grant program appears to reward high-cost states.
The House bill zeroes out the individual and employer mandates and outright repeals all manner of ObamaCare taxes, including: the tax on over-the-counter medications; the additional 10-percent tax on non-medical HSA withdrawals; the limits on health flexible spending arrangement contributions; the medical device tax; the tax on poor and/or sick patients (the AGI threshold for the medical-expenses deduction reverts from 10 percent to 7.5 percent); the “Medicare” “payroll” tax; the net-investment tax; the tanning tax; the tax on insurance-executive compensation; the health-insurance tax; and the pharmaceutical-manufacturers tax.
In a pretty crass budget gimmick, the bill retains the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health plans but delays its onset until 2025.
Swallowing the Republicans’ Agenda
Republicans don’t seem to have any concept of the quagmire they are about to enter with this bill.
ObamaCare’s Exchanges are already on the brink of collapse. Since this bill does not repeal the community-rating price controls, repeals the individual mandate, shifts the benefits from ObamaCare’s tax credits up the income scale, and tasks states with devising new bailout schemes of uncertain timing and efficacy, the threat of death spirals will remain. Even where the individual market does not collapse, the coverage will get increasingly worse for the sick. If the tax credits (read: subsidies) for low-income Americans are less than under ObamaCare, many more low-income patients will lose coverage. Premiums will continue to rise. Republicans will take the blame for all of it, because they will have failed to repeal ObamaCare, or learn its lessons, when they had the chance.
The leadership bill therefore creates the potential, if not the certainty, of a series of crises that Congress will need address, and that will crowd out other GOP priorities, in late 2017 before the 2018 plan year begins, and again leading up to the 2018 elections. If Congress gets health reform wrong on its first try, health reform could consume most of President Trump’s first term. Pressure from Democrats, the media, and constituents could prevent Republicans from moving on to tax reform, infrastructure spending, or even Supreme Court nominees.
Partial Repeal Is the Road to Single Payer
Flubbing ObamaCare would at once united and embolden Democrats while dividing the GOP base, driving the former to the polls in 2018 and 2020 while causing the latter to stay home. If ObamaCare is not doing well, and Republicans take the blame, it will create the potential for the sort of wave election Democrats experienced in 2008, when they captured not just the House and the presidency, but a filibuster-proof, 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. If that happens, and ObamaCare is not doing well, Democrats will be less interested in rescuing ObamaCare than repealing and replacing it themselves—with a single-payer system.
ObamaCare opponents often muse that supporters designed the law to fail because it would give them the excuse to enact a single-payer system. Republicans have a choice. They can either prevent that future from unfolding, or they can help it along.
Widespread voter dissatisfaction with ObamaCare produced Republican gains in 2010 and 2014, and a GOP sweep in 2016. President Trump and congressional Republicans pledged full repeal of the law, and to replace it with free-market reforms. The parts of the country that stood the most to gain from ObamaCare swung the most to President Trump. That looks suspiciously like a mandate. The good kind.
If Republicans care about covering people with expensive medical conditions, they should stick to that promise. Making health care better, more affordable, and more secure requires first repealing all of ObamaCare’s regulations, mandates, subsidies, and taxes. Next, Congress should block-grant the Medicaid program, giving each state a fixed sum of money that does not change from year to year, combined with full flexibility to target those funds to the truly needy. (If states want to cover less-needy populations, like able-bodied adults, they can pay 100 percent of the marginal cost of that coverage.)
Finally, and crucially, Congress needs to enact reforms that make health care more affordable, rather than just subsidize unaffordable care. To make health insurance more affordable, Congress should free consumers and employers to purchase health insurance licensed by states other than their own. To drive down health care prices, Congress should expand existing tax-free health savings accounts into “large” HSAs. Large HSAs would be a larger effective tax cut than the Reagan and Bush tax cuts combined, adding $13,000 to the wages of a typical worker with family coverage. Large HSAs would drive down prices by making consumers cost-conscious at every margin, and would reduce the problem of preexisting conditions by freeing consumers to buy portable coverage that stays with them between jobs. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) have introduced legislation to create Large HSAs.
The House Republican leadership bill does not replace ObamaCare. It merely applies a new coat of paint to a building that Republicans themselves have already condemned. Since the most important asset health reformers have is unified Republican opposition to ObamaCare, at least in theory, it would set the cause of affordable health care back a decade or more if Republicans end up coalescing around this bill and putting a Republican imprimatur on ObamaCare’s core features. If this is the choice, it would be better if Congress simply did nothing.
But this can’t be the only choice. Right?
Comments Off on 3 women who inspired the modern libertarian movement
Liberty was in full retreat in the early 1940s. Tyrants oppressed or threatened people on every continent. Western intellectuals whitewashed mass murderers like Joseph Stalin, and Western governments expanded their power with Soviet-style central planning. Fifty million people were killed in the war that raged in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The United States, seemingly the last hope for liberty, was drawn into it.
Established American authors who defended liberty were a dying breed. H.L. Mencken had turned away from bitter politics to write his memoirs, while others like Albert Jay Nock and Garet Garrett were mired in pessimism.
Amidst the worst of times, three bold women banished fear. They dared to declare that collectivism was evil. They stood up for natural rights, the only philosophy that provided a moral basis for opposing tyranny everywhere. They celebrated old-fashioned rugged individualism. They envisioned a future when people could again be free. They expressed a buoyant optimism that inspired millions.
All were outsiders who transcended difficult beginnings. Two were immigrants. One was born in frontier territory not yet part of the United States. They struggled to earn money as writers in commercial markets dominated by ideological adversaries. All were broke at one time or another. They endured heartaches with men — one stayed in a marriage that became sterile, and two became divorced and never remarried.
These women who had such humble beginnings — Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, and Ayn Rand — published major books during the same year, 1943: The Discovery of Freedom, The God of the Machine, and The Fountainhead, respectively. The women, recalled journalist John Chamberlain, “with scornful side glances at the male business community, had decided to rekindle a faith in an older American philosophy. There wasn’t an economist among them. And none of them was a PhD.” Albert Jay Nock declared, “They make all of us male writers look like Confederate money. They don’t fumble and fiddle around — every shot goes straight to the centre.”
Rose Wilder Lane
Like her compatriots, Rose Wilder Lane surprised people. She once described herself by saying, “I’m a plump, middle western, middle class, middle-aged woman.” She had bad teeth, her marriage failed, she worked to support her aging parents, and at one point during the 1930s, she was so financially distressed that her electricity was shut off. Yet, she soared with great eloquence as she helped revive the radical principles of the American Revolution, and she inspired millions of adults and children alike as the editor of the beloved Little House books about individual responsibility, hard work, stubborn persistence, strong families, and human liberty.
Rose Wilder Lane was born December 5, 1886, near De Smet, Dakota Territory. Her father, Almanzo Wilder, and her mother, Laura Ingalls, were poor farmers, devastated by drought, hailstorms, and other calamities that ruined crops. For years, the family lived in a windowless cabin. They missed many meals. Their daughter, named after wild roses which bloomed on the prairie, often went barefoot.
When Lane was four, the family gave up on Dakota and moved to Mansfield, Missouri, which offered better farming prospects. She went to a four-room, red brick schoolhouse that had two shelves of books, and she discovered the wonders of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Edward Gibbon. Her mainstay became the famous McGuffey Readers compiled by Cincinnati College President William Holmes McGuffey, who imparted moral lessons as he taught the fundamentals of reading and exposed young minds to many great authors of Western civilization.
“We did not like discipline,” Lane recalled, “so we suffered until we disciplined ourselves. We saw many things and many opportunities that we ardently wanted and could not pay for, so we did not get them, or got them only after stupendous, heartbreaking effort and self-denial, for debt was much harder to bear than deprivations. We were honest, not because sinful human nature wanted to be, but because the consequences of dishonesty were excessively painful. It was clear that if your word were not as good as your bond, your bond was no good and you were worthless … we learned that it is impossible to get something for nothing.”
She quit school after the ninth grade and determined that somehow she would see the world beyond rural Missouri. She took a train to Kansas City and accepted a job as a Western Union telegraph clerk on the night shift. She spent most of her spare time reading, perhaps three hours a day. By 1908, she relocated to San Francisco for another Western Union job and romance with advertising salesman Gillette Lane. They married in March 1909. She became pregnant but had either a miscarriage or stillbirth. It became impossible for her to conceive again.
By 1915, the marriage had broken up, but through Gillette’s newspaper connections, Lane found her start as a journalist. For the San Francisco Bulletin, a radical labor paper, she began writing a women’s column, then a series of daily 1,500-word personality profiles. She wrote an autobiographical novel serialized in Sunset magazine.
In March 1920, the Red Cross invited her to travel around Europe and report on their relief efforts, so that prospective donors — on whose support they depended — would know about the organization’s good deeds. Based in Paris, she traveled to Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Rome, Sarajevo, Dubrovnik, Tirana, Trieste, Athens, Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Constantinople. Lane imagined that Europe was the great hope for civilization, but instead, she eluded bandits, encountered bureaucratic corruption, endured runaway inflation, and witnessed civil war horrors and the darkening shadows of ruthless tyranny.
Lane visited the Soviet Union four years after the Bolsheviks seized power. Like many people, she was enchanted by the Communist vision for a better life. She met peasants whom she expected to be rapturous about Communism. But, as she reported later, “My host astounded me by the force with which he said that he did not like the new government.… His complaint was government interference with village affairs. He protested against the growing bureaucracy that was taking more and more men from productive work. He predicted chaos and suffering from the centralizing of economic power in Moscow.… I came out of the Soviet Union no longer a communist, because I believed in personal freedom.”
After returning to America, her career blossomed as she wrote for the American Mercury, Country Gentleman, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, and the Saturday Evening Post, among others. She wrote novels about pioneer life. Famed actress Helen Hayes dramatized one of Lane’s novels, Let the Hurricane Roar, on the radio. But Lane was financially devastated during the Great Depression. In 1931, she wailed, “I am forty-five. Owe $8,000. Have in bank $502.70.… Nothing that I have intended has ever been realized.”
In 1936, Lane wrote “Credo,” an 18,000-word article on liberty, for the Saturday Evening Post. Three years later, Leonard Read, general manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, helped establish a little publishing firm called Pamphleteers, which reprinted Lane’s article as Give Me Liberty.
In it, Lane explained how free competition enables civilization to flourish despite scoundrels. “I have no illusions about the pioneers,” she wrote. “In general they were trouble-makers of the lower classes, and Europe was glad to be rid of them. They brought no great amount of intelligence or culture. Their principal desire was to do as they pleased.… [Yet] Americans today … are the kindest people on earth.… Only Americans pour wealth over the world, relieving suffering in such distant places as Armenia and Japan.… Such are a few of the human values that grew from individualism while individualism was creating this nation.”
The Discovery of Freedom
In 1942, an editor of John Day Company asked Lane to write a book about liberty. She began work in a McAllen, Texas, trailer park, amidst a tour of the Southwest. She went through at least two drafts at her home in Danbury, Connecticut. Her book, The Discovery of Freedom, Man’s Struggle Against Authority, was published January 1943.
While most historians focused on rulers, Lane chronicled the epic 6,000-year struggle of ordinary people who defy rulers to raise families, produce food, build industries, engage in trade, and in countless ways improve human life. She was lyrical about the American Revolution, which helped secure liberty and unleashed phenomenal energy for human progress.
With stirring, sometimes melodramatic prose, she attacked myriad collectivist influences, including government schools and so-called “progressive” economic regulations. She ridiculed claims that bureaucrats could do better for individuals than individuals could do for themselves. She swept away gloom with her towering self-confidence. “Five generations of Americans have led the Revolution,” she declared, “and the time is coming when Americans will set this whole world free.”
Individualist Albert Jay Nock lavished praise on the book, but Lane was dissatisfied with it and refused permission to reprint it. She never got around to completing another edition. Only a thousand copies of the book were printed during her lifetime.
Nonetheless, The Discovery of Freedom had a big impact, circulating as an underground classic. It helped inspire the launching of several organizations to promote liberty — among them, Leonard Read’s Foundation for Economic Education, F.A. Harper’s Institute for Humane Studies, and Robert M. Lefevre’s Freedom School. Read retained General Motors consumer researcher Henry Grady Weaver to adapt the book as The Mainspring of Human Progress, and hundreds of thousands of copies have been distributed by FEE.
The Little House Books
Although The Discovery of Freedom was a founding document of the modern libertarian movement, Lane had perhaps a greater calling behind the scenes. In 1930, Laura Ingalls Wilder gave Lane a manuscript about her early life from Wisconsin to Kansas and Dakota. Lane deleted the material about Wisconsin, then went through two drafts of the rest, fleshing out the story and characters. This became a 100-page manuscript tentatively called Pioneer Girl, and she sent it to her literary agent, Carl Brandt. The Wisconsin material became a 20-page story, “When Grandma Was a Little Girl,” a possible text for a children’s picture book. One publisher suggested that the story be expanded to a 25,000-word book for younger readers.
Lane conveyed the news to her mother, and since the original manuscript had been rewritten beyond recognition, she explained, “It is your father’s stories, taken out of the long Pioneer Girl manuscript, and strung together, as you will see.” Lane specified the kind of additional material needed, adding, “If you find it easier to write in the first person, write that way. I will change it into the third person, later.” Lane reassured her mother that the collaboration remained a family secret: “I have said nothing about having run the manuscript through my own typewriter.” By May 27, 1931, the “juvenile” was done, and Lane sent it off to publishers. Harper Brothers issued it in 1932 as Little House in the Big Woods, and it became a beloved American story.
In January 1933, Wilder gave Lane Farmer Boy, a manuscript about Almanzo’s childhood recollections. Publishers had rejected it, presumably because it was mainly a chronicle of farm skills. Lane spent a month turning it into a flesh-and-blood story, and Harper’s bought it. The following year, Wilder gave Lane a manuscript about her life in Kansas, and she spent five weeks rewriting it into Little House on the Prairie.
The books began generating significant income for the Wilders — a relief to Lane, whose aim was to help provide their financial security. Wilder expanded part of Pioneer Girl into another manuscript and gave it to Lane in the summer of 1936. “I have written you the whys of the story as I wrote it,” Wilder explained. “But you know your judgement is better than mine, so what you decide is the one that stands.” Lane spent two months rewriting it and drafted a letter for their literary agent, asking for better terms. This manuscript became On the Banks of Plum Creek. Lane spent most of 1939 rewriting the manuscript for By the Shores of Silver Lake; in 1940, The Long Winter; in 1941, Little Town on the Prairie; and in 1942, These Happy Golden Years.
Throughout the later books especially, Lane portrayed young Laura Ingalls Wilder as a libertarian heroine. For example, in Little Town on the Prairie, she described her mother’s thoughts this way: “Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn’t anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.”
In 1974, NBC began adapting the books for Little House on the Prairie, a hugely popular television series that ran nine years and resulted in more than 200 episodes. Then came a syndication agreement assuring that they would be run again and again for at least the next quarter-century. Michael Landon wrote and directed many shows and starred as Laura’s father, Charles Ingalls.
Lane’s last blast was a book about American needlework, which she turned into a hymn for liberty. “American needlework tells you,” she continued, “that Americans live in the only classless society. This republic is the only country that has no peasant needlework.… American women … discarded backgrounds, they discarded borders and frames. They made the details create the whole, and they set each detail in boundless space, alone, independent, complete.”
Lane knew but wasn’t close to the bold, hot-tempered, sometimes tactless journalist Isabel Bowler Paterson. According to scholar Stephen Cox, she was “a slight woman, 5’3” tall, very nearsighted, a lover of pretty and slightly eccentric clothes, fond of delicate foods, a light drinker, a devotee of nature who could spend all day watching a tree grow.”
Paterson held stubbornly to her views and told all who would listen what she thought about an issue. Dominating conversations tended to limit her social life, especially as she became a dissident against New Deal government intervention, but she did have some stalwart friends. One remarked that “if people can stand her at all, they eventually become very fond of her.”
Paterson wrote novels and some 1,200 newspaper columns, but it was The God of the Machine that secured her immortality in the annals of liberty. It mounted a powerful attack on collectivism and explained the extraordinary dynamics of free markets.
She was born January 22, 1886, on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Her parents, Francis and Margaret Bowler, were poor farmers who moved to Michigan, then Utah and Alberta, in search of better luck. Paterson made soap, tended livestock, and spent just two years in school. But she read books at home, including the Bible, some Shakespeare, and novels by Charles Dickens and Alexander Dumas.
When she was about 18 years old, Paterson went off on her own. She worked as a waitress, bookkeeper, and stenographer, earning $20 a month. She was proud to be independent. “Listen, my girl,” she told a journalist, “your paycheck is your mother and your father; in other words, respect it.”
At 24, in 1910, she married Kenneth Birrell Paterson, but the relationship soured, and within a few years, they went their separate ways. She seldom talked about him again. She was more determined than ever to maintain her independence.
She had done a little writing on the side to relieve boredom, and after she became a secretary to a Spokane, Washington, newspaper publisher, she did more. She began writing his editorials. She wrote drama criticism for two Vancouver newspapers. Next, fiction — her novel The Shadow Riders was published in 1916, and The Magpie’s Nest, the following year. Both were about young women struggling to achieve independence. Although Canada had become a protectionist nation, Paterson made clear in The Shadow Riders that she was a free trader.
Paterson moved east following World War I and started reading her way through much of the New York Public Library. In 1922, she persuaded New York Tribune literary editor Burton Rascoe to give her a job, even though he didn’t like her. “She said bluntly that she wanted the job,” he recalled. “I told her my budget would not allow me to pay what she was worth. She said she would work for whatever I was prepared to pay. I said the pay was forty dollars a week. She said, ‘I’ll work for that.’”
In 1924, she started writing a weekly column on books, and it became an influential forum for the next quarter-century. She used books as a point of departure to talk about practically anything. Many columns affirmed her commitment to American individualism. She attacked collectivist societies based on status and defended dynamic capitalism. She denounced Herbert Hoover’s interventionism and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The God of the Machine
Many columns explored themes that became the basis for The God of the Machine, published by Putnam’s in May 1943. Paterson attacked fascism, Nazism, and Communism as varieties of the same evil: collectivism. She reserved some of her most eloquent blasts for Stalin, who charmed so many intellectuals. Anyone who imagines that socialist horrors were exposed recently will be shocked to see how clearly Paterson understood why collectivism always means stagnation, backwardness, corruption, and slavery.
There’s much more in this tremendous book. Paterson provided a grand overview of the history of liberty. She made clear why personal freedom is impossible without political freedom. She defended immigrants. She denounced military conscription, central economic planning, compulsory unionism, business subsidies, paper money, and compulsory government schools. Long before most economists, she explained how New Deal policies prolonged the Great Depression.
Paterson celebrated private entrepreneurs, who are the primary source of human progress. For instance: “Everything that was the creation of private enterprise in the railways gave satisfaction. Private enterprise mined, smelted, and forged the iron, invented the steam engine, devised surveying instruments, produced and accumulated the capital, organized the effort. In the building and operation of the railways, whatever lay in the realm of private enterprise was done with competence.… What people hated was the monopoly. The monopoly, and nothing else, was the political contribution.”
By 1949, Paterson’s libertarian views became too much for the editors of the New York Herald Tribune, and she was fired. Nonetheless, she expressed her gratitude, saying they probably published more of her work than would have been tolerated anywhere else. They gave her a small pension, and she got along by investing her savings in real estate. She refused Social Security, returning her card in an envelope marked “Social Security Swindle.”
Meanwhile, she had become a focal point for the fledgling libertarian movement. For example, after Leonard Read founded the Foundation for Economic Education, she introduced him to influential journalist John Chamberlain, whom she had helped convert into a libertarian. A decades-long collaboration blossomed.
Back during the early 1940s, Paterson mentored Russian-born Ayn Rand who, 19 years younger, joined her weekly when she proofread typeset pages of her Herald Tribune book reviews. She introduced Rand to many books and ideas about history, economics, and political philosophy, helping Rand develop a more sophisticated worldview. When Rand’s novel The Fountainhead was published, Paterson promoted it in a number of Herald Tribune columns. Rand’s books went on to surpass Paterson’s — and just about everyone else’s for that matter — selling some 20 million copies.
Rand had a striking presence. As biographer Barbara Branden described Rand upon her arrival in America at age 21: “Framed by its short, straight hair, its squarish shape stressed by a firmly set jaw, its sensual wide mouth held in tight restraint, its huge dark eyes black with intensity, it seemed the face of a martyr or an inquisitor or a saint. The eyes burned with a passion that was at once emotional and intellectual — as if they would sear the onlooker and leave their dark light a flame on his body.” Later in life, chain smoking and sedentary habits took their toll, but Rand was still unforgettable, as book editor Hiram Haydn recalled: “A short, squarish woman, with black hair cut in bangs and a Dutch bob.… Her eyes were as black as her hair, and piercing.”
Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg. Her father Fronz Rosenbaum had risen from poverty to the middle class as a chemist. Her mother Anna was an extrovert who believed in vigorous exercise and thrived on a busy social life. Alissa wanted nothing to do with either exercise or parties.
She was precocious. After school, she studied French and German at home. Inspired by a magazine serial, she began writing stories, and at nine years old, she resolved to become a writer.
The Rosenbaums’ comfortable world ended when the Czar entered World War I, which devastated the nation’s economy. Within a year, more than a million Russians were killed or wounded. The government went broke. People were hungry. The Bolsheviks exploited the chaos and seized power in 1918.
The Russian Revolution spurred young Alissa to invent stories about heroic individuals battling kings or Communist dictators. At this time, too, she discovered novelist Victor Hugo, whose dramatic style and towering heroes captivated her imagination. “I was fascinated by Hugo’s sense of life,” she recalled. “It was someone writing something important. I felt this is the kind of writer I would like to be, but I didn’t know how long it would take.”
At the University of Petrograd, she took courses with the stern Aristotelian Nicholas Lossky who, scholar Chris Sciabarra showed, had an enormous impact on her thinking. She read plays by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (she loved him) and William Shakespeare (hated him), philosophy by Friedrich Nietzsche (provocative thinker), and novels by Feodor Dostoevsky (good plotter). She was utterly captivated to see some foreign movies. She had her first big crush, on a man named Leo who risked his life to hide members of the anti-Bolshevik underground.
In 1925, the Rosenbaums received a letter from relatives who had emigrated to Chicago more than three decades earlier to escape Russian anti-Semitism. Alissa expressed a burning desire to see America. The relatives agreed to pay her passage and be financially responsible for her. Miraculously, Soviet officials granted her a passport for a six-month visit. On February 10, 1926, she boarded the ship De Grasse and arrived in New York with $50.
She soon joined her relatives in a cramped Chicago apartment. She saw a lot of movies and worked at her typewriter — usually starting around midnight, which made it difficult for others to sleep. During this period, she settled on a new first name for herself: Ayn, after a Finnish writer she had never read, but she liked the sound. And a new last name: Rand, after her Remington Rand typewriter. Biographer Branden says Rand might have adopted a new name to protect her family from possible recrimination by the Soviet regime.
Determined to become a movie script writer, she moved to Los Angeles. Through her Chicago relatives, she persuaded a movie distributor to write a letter introducing her to someone in the publicity department of the glamorous Cecil B. DeMille Studio. She met the great man himself while entering his studio, and he took her to the set of his current production. She started work as an extra for $7.50 a day.
At DeMille’s studio, Rand fell in love with a tall, handsome, blue-eyed bit actor named Frank O’Connor. They were married April 15, 1929, before her visa expired. She no longer had to worry about returning to the Soviet Union. Two months later, she applied for American citizenship.
The DeMille Studio closed, and she found odd jobs, such as a freelance script reader. In 1935, she had a taste of success when she earned as much as $1,200 a week from her play Night of January 16th, which ran 283 performances on Broadway. It was about a ruthless industrialist and the powerful woman on trial for his murder.
We the Living
Rand spent four years writing her first novel, We the Living, about the struggle to find freedom in Soviet Russia. Kira Argounova, the desperate heroine, became the mistress of a party boss so she could raise money for her lover suffering from tuberculosis. Rand finished the book in late 1933. After many rejections, Macmillan agreed to take it and pay a $250 advance. The company published 3,000 copies in March 1936, but the book didn’t sell. Although word of mouth gave it a lift after about a year, Macmillan had destroyed the type, and We the Living went out of print. Rand had earned just $100 of royalties.
In 1937, while struggling to develop the plot of The Fountainhead, Rand wrote a short, lyrical futurist story about an individual versus collectivist tyranny: Anthem. Rand’s literary agent sold it to a British publisher but couldn’t find a taker in the American market. About seven years later, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce General Manager Leonard Read visited Rand and O’Connor — then living in New York — and remarked that somebody ought to write a book defending individualism. Rand told him about Anthem. Read borrowed her copy, read it, and his small publishing firm Pamphleteers made it available in the United States. It has sold some 2.5 million copies.
Rand finished plotting The Fountainhead in 1938 after nearly four years of work. Then came the writing. Her hero, architect Howard Roark, expressed her vision of an ideal man. He battled collectivists all around him to defend the integrity of his ideas, even when it meant dynamiting a building because plans were altered in violation of his contract.
Selling the book proved tough. Rand’s editor at Macmillan expressed interest and offered another $250 advance, but she insisted the company agree to spend at least $1,200 on publicity, so Macmillan bowed out. By 1940, a dozen publishers had seen finished chapters and rejected the book. One influential editor declared the book would never sell. Rand’s literary agent turned against it. Her savings were down to about $700.
Rand suggested that the partial manuscript be submitted to Bobbs-Merrill, an Indianapolis-based publisher that had issued The Red Decade by anti-Communist journalist Eugene Lyons. Bobbs-Merrill’s Indianapolis editors rejected The Fountainhead, but the company’s New York editor Archibald Ogden loved it and threatened to quit if they didn’t take it. They signed a contract in December 1941, paying Rand a $1,000 advance. With two-thirds of the book yet to be written, Rand focused on making her January 1, 1943, deadline for completion. She found herself in a friendly race with Isabel Paterson, then working to finish The God of the Machine.
Rand made her deadline, and The Fountainhead was published in May 1943, the same month as The God of the Machine, about nine years after the book was just a dream. The Fountainhead generated many more reviews than We the Living, but most reviewers either denounced it or misrepresented it as a book about architecture. For a while, Bobbs-Merrill’s initial print run of 7,500 copies moved slowly. Word of mouth stirred a groundswell of interest, and the publisher ordered a succession of reprintings that were small, in part because of wartime paper shortages. The book gained momentum and hit the bestseller lists. Two years after publication, it had sold 100,000 copies. By 1948, it had sold 400,000 copies. Then came the New American Library paperback edition, and The Fountainhead went on to sell over 6 million copies.
The day Warner Brothers agreed to pay Rand $50,000 for movie rights to The Fountainhead, she and O’Connor splurged and each had a 65-cent dinner at their local cafeteria. Rand fought to preserve the script’s integrity and largely succeeded, though some of her most cherished lines were cut. The movie, starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, and Raymond Massey, premiered in July 1949. It propelled the book onto the bestseller lists again.
Sometime earlier, when the hardcover edition had just come out, Rand told Paterson how disappointed she was with its reception. Paterson urged her to write a nonfiction book and added that Rand had a duty to make her views more widely known. Rand rebelled at the suggestion that she owed people anything. “What if I went on strike?” she asked. “What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?” This became the idea for her last major work, tentatively called The Strike.
As Rand worked on the book for some 14 years, everything about it became larger than life. The book featured her most famous hero, mysterious John Galt, the physicist-inventor who organized a strike of the most productive people against taxers and other exploiters. The book introduced Dagney Taggart, Rand’s first ideal woman, who found her match in Galt. Key characters delivered long speeches presenting Rand’s philosophical views on liberty, money, and sex — the book often seems more like a polemic for individualism and capitalism. A friend suggested that the tentative title would make many people think the book was about labor unions, and she abandoned it. O’Connor urged her to use one of the chapter headings as the book title, and it became Atlas Shrugged.
Rand’s ideas were as controversial as ever, but sales of The Fountainhead impressed publishers, and several big ones courted her for Atlas Shrugged. Random House co-owner Bennett Cerf was most supportive, and Rand got a $50,000 advance against a 15 percent royalty, a first printing of at least 75,000 copies, and a $25,000 advertising budget. The book was published October 10, 1957.
Most reviewers were savage. The old-line socialist Granville Hicks was a vocal critic in the New York Times, and others were similarly offended by Rand’s attacks on collectivism. The most hysterical review of all turned out to be in the conservative National Review, where Whittaker Chambers, presumably offended by her critique of religion, likened Rand to a Nazi “commanding: ‘To a gas chamber — go!’” Word of mouth proved too strong for these naysayers, and sales began to climb, eventually past 4.5 million copies.
With Atlas Shrugged, Rand had fulfilled her dreams, and she became depressed. She was exhausted. She no longer had a giant project to focus her prodigious energies. She leaned increasingly on her Canadian-born intellectual disciple Nathaniel Branden, with whom she had become intimate. To serve the growing interest in Rand and help revive her spirits, he established the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which offered seminars, marketed taped lectures, and began issuing publications. Rand wrote articles about her brand of libertarian philosophy, which she called objectivism. Branden, 25 years younger than Rand, was sometimes an abrasive taskmaster, but he displayed remarkable skills promoting the ideals of individualism and capitalism. Good times continued until August 23, 1968, when he told Rand about his affair with another woman. Rand denounced him publicly, and they split, although the reasons weren’t fully disclosed until Branden’s ex-wife Barbara’s biography was published 18 years later. Branden later became a best-selling author about self-esteem.
During the past half century, no single individual did more than Ayn Rand to win converts for liberty. Her books sell a reported 300,000 copies year after year, without being advertised by publishers or assigned by college professors. Indeed, her works have been trashed by most intellectuals. Her enduring appeal is an amazing phenomenon.
Curiously, despite the enormous influence of Rand’s books, they have had limited impact outside the English-speaking world. The most successful has been The Fountainhead, with editions in French, German, Norwegian, Swedish, and Russian. We the Living is available in French, German, Greek, Italian, and Russian editions, but a fifth as many copies are sold. The only overseas edition of Atlas Shrugged is in German — incredibly, it was never published in England. Anthem still hasn’t appeared in a translation, although French and Swedish editions are underway. Confirmation, perhaps, that America remains the world’s hotbed of rugged individualism.
The Final Years
Rand, Paterson, and Lane saw little of each other over the years. Rand and Paterson, both prickly pears, had a bitter split during the 1940s; after publication of Atlas Shrugged, Paterson attempted a reconciliation without success. Paterson’s friendship with Lane apparently had ended in some kind of intellectual dispute. Suffering gout and other infirmities, Paterson moved in with two of her remaining friends, Ted and Muriel Hall, in Montclair, New Jersey. There she died on January 10, 1961, at age 74. She was buried in an unmarked grave.
Rand and Lane had already split over religion. Although Lane remained active throughout her life — Woman’s Day sent her to Vietnam as their correspondent in 1965 — she cherished country living at her Danbury, Connecticut, home. On November 29, 1966, she baked several days’ worth of bread and went upstairs to sleep. She never awoke. She was 79. Her close friend and literary heir, Roger MacBride, brought her ashes to Mansfield, Missouri, and had them buried next to her mother and father. MacBride had her simple gravestone engraved with some words by Thomas Paine: “An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot. Neither the Channel nor the Rhine will arrest its progress. It will march on the horizon of the world and it will conquer.”
Rand had quarreled with many friends and led a reclusive life during her last years. She endured surgery for lung cancer. She kept more to herself after Frank O’Connor’s death in November 1979, oblivious to how her ideas inspired millions. Two years later, she enjoyed one heartening view, though; entrepreneur James Blanchard had a private train take her from New York to New Orleans, where 4,000 people cheered her resounding defense of liberty.
Rand’s heart began to fail in December 1981. She hung on for three more months, asking her closest associate, Leonard Peikoff, to finish several projects. She died in her 120 East 34th Street, Manhattan apartment on March 6, 1982. She was buried next to O’Connor in Valhalla, New York, as some 200 mourners tossed flowers on her coffin. She was 77.
With their acknowledged eccentricities, Rand, Paterson, and Lane were miracles. They came out of nowhere to courageously challenge a corrupt, collectivist world. They single-mindedly seized the high ground. They affirmed the moral imperative for liberty. They showed that all things are possible.