“But can we get away with it?” asked [economic czar] Wesley Mouch.
It was Eugene Lawson who answered. “We must not let vulgar difficulties obstruct our feeling that it’s a noble plan motivated solely by the public welfare. It’s for the good of the people.”
“It’s obvious that measures have to be taken. Drastic measures,” said James Taggart, speaking, not to [Head of State] Mr. Thompson, but to Wesley Mouch. “We can’t let things go the way they’re going much longer.
“Something’s got to be done…”
“Don’t look at me,” snapped Wesley Mouch. “I’m tied. I need wider powers.”
“I don’t care what you decide to do, Wesley,” said Mr. Thompson, “and I don’t care if the businessmen squawk about it.”
“Whatever type of men we’re counting on and planning for,” said Dr. Ferris, “there’s a certain old-fashioned quotation which we may safely forget: the one about counting on the wise and the honest. We don’t have to consider them. They’re out of date.”
James Taggart glanced at the window. A monument stood shining in the distance, hit by a ray of sun: it was a tall, white obelisk, erected to the memory of the man Dr. Ferris was quoting, the man in whose honor this city had been named. James Taggart looked away.
“Go ahead, Wesley,” [Mr. Thompson] said. “Go ahead with Number 10-289. You won’t have any trouble at all.”
They had all risen to their feet, in gloomily reluctant deference. Wesley Mouch glanced down at his sheet of paper…
“The chief difficulty is that I’m not sure whether the law actually grants us the power to put into effect certain provisions of Directive Number 10-289. I fear they might be open to challenge.”
“Oh hell, we’ve passed so many … laws that if you hunt through them, you’re sure to dig up something that will cover it.”
Mr. Thomson turned to the others with a smile of good fellowship. “I’ll leave you boys to iron out the wrinkles,” he said. “I appreciate your coming to Washington to help us out.”
They had not heard the text of Directive No. 10-289, but they knew what it would contain. They had known it for a long time…
They wished the directive to go into effect. They wished it could be put into effect without words, so that they would not have to know that what they were doing was what it was. Nobody had ever announced that Directive No. 10-289 was the final goal of his efforts. Yet, for generations past, men had worked to make it possible, and for months past, every provision of it had been prepared for by countless speeches, articles, sermons, editorials – by purposeful voices that screamed with anger if anyone named their purpose.
“The picture now is this,” said Wesley Mouch. “The economic condition of the country was better the year before last than it was last year, and last year it was better than it is at present. It’s obvious that we would not be able to survive another year of the same progression. Therefore, our sole objective must now be to hold the line. To achieve total stability. Freedom has been given a chance and has failed. Therefore, more stringent controls are necessary. Since men are unable and unwilling to solve their problems voluntarily, they must be forced to do it.”
Such was the state of the country in the fictional Atlas Shrugged, as America was about to take the final plunge into the abyss of dictatorship, via Directive Number 10-289. Henceforth, the people will be able to act, not on their own judgement, but only by order and by permission of the central planners in Washington. But this is only fiction, right?
Steve Forbes, Editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, former presidential candidate, and passionate defender of free market capitalism, gives us a brief description of some of the laws and policies coming out of Washington today, 53 years after the publication of the fictional [?] Atlas Shrugged. Mr. Forbes is not a fully consistent advocate of capitalism. He clings to the belief in some limited government regulation of business – the wrong kind. Nevertheless, he offers much intelligent and cogent analysis of the issues, zeroing in on the essential nature of government policy, especially Obama-nomics. Mr. Forbes is not prone to exaggeration, giving his analysis strong credibility. Despite his inconsistencies and some fundamental disagreements, I have great respect for his point of view.
Here are some excerpts from a recent Fact and Comment essay entitled Marx Would Be Impressed:
Socialists believe that the way to paradise is for governments to own "the means of production." That didn't work so well.
Today's neosocialists are smarter than their ancestors. Instead of outright takeovers, they are achieving much the same goal through rigid regulations. ObamaCare is a prime example. Health insurers will eventually be private in name only, as the details of their policies will be dictated by governmental decrees.
Entitlements go hand in hand with sweeping, overbearing regulations. President Obama wants higher education in this country to be free of charge, which is why his Administration is pushing for a government takeover of student lending. With such powers it will be but a wee stretch to intrude even further into the governance of the nation's colleges and universities--including, ultimately, admissions. [And, ultimately, the career choices of the graduates, as it was in the old Soviet Union?]
Senator Chris Dodd's (D--Conn.) recently unveiled package of financial regulatory reforms is a neosocialist's dream.
The Dodd bill is an open invitation for government to micromanage the whole breadth of finance in America, including even your local pawnshop. Nationalizing the U.S. financial system without formally nationalizing it--Karl Marx would be drooling in delight.
What Mr. Forbes is describing is Fascism - nationalizing without formally nationalizing, Marxism without formal Marxism. “Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories?” said Adolf Hitler in 1933 (p. 231-32). “We socialize human beings.” Mr. Forbes doesn’t name it. But it is what it is, and we’re headed where we’re headed, despite the “purposeful voices that screamed with anger if anyone named their purpose.”
Mouch leaned back in his chair. “I must say to all of you that I appreciate your coming here and giving us the benefit of your opinions. It has been very helpful.” He leaned forward to look at his desk calendar and sat over it for a moment, toying with his pencil. Then the pencil came down, struck a date and drew a circle around it. “Directive 10-289 will go into effect on the morning of May first.”
All nodded approval. None looked at his neighbor.
James Taggart rose, walked to the window and pulled the blind down over the white obelisk.
Not quite yet. We still have time to save the white obelisk. As Mr. Forbes points out on the same page under the heading A Grotesquerie, “the health care fight has just begun.” But the reality merging with the fiction dramatizes the critical stage of the battle we’re in.
Healthcare, education, and finance are but three of a number of areas where Obama’s very own version of Directive Number 10-289 is descending on America. Environmental policy (the regulation of CO2), energy (cap & trade legislation), and sweeping new federal controls over the food industry (with the blessing of the giants of the industry) are three others that come to mind. His theory on the function of the courts, the erosion of objective law in favor of arbitrary government power which is reflected in his Supreme Court pick of Sonya Sotomayor and his recent comments following the resignation of Supreme Court Justice J.P. Stevens, is a grave danger, long term.
The consolidation of power in Washington is occurring at breathtaking speed. But Obama is merely cashing in on the fact that “for generations past, men had worked to make it possible.” Obama himself will not become a dictator. Nor is that his desire. Nor is the timing right for the full extension of the government’s powers, both existing and newfound. The remnants of America’s revolutionary individualist spirit is still too potent, but it is slowly but steadily withering under the collectivist onslaught.
Obama’s self-professed goal is long term - to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” His goal is ideological. He means to arrogate to an already too powerful government vast new tools of coercion and control over its citizens, and leave those powers to future leaders of the collectivist brigade to put them to use. His rhetoric is intended to pave the intellectual road ahead for them. He is the latest, and one of the most successful, in a long line of men who had worked to make socialism possible in America.
Directive Number 10-289 is being implemented, not in one draconian sweep, as in the novel, but stealthily and piecemeal. Is it constitutional? “Oh hell, we’ve passed so many … laws [and distorted the constitution in so many ways] that if you hunt through them, you’re sure to dig up something that will cover it.” America is not ripe for the full adoption of 10-289 … yet - but, a generation from now? The latent powers of our real-life 10-289 will lie dormant in Washington, for as long as it takes, or until they are exposed and repealed. America’s future is not baked in the cake, especially since, though battered and bruised, our free speech rights are still mostly intact. But Ronald Reagan's warning should always be remembered.
But the road ahead will not be easy for those of us who value our freedom. The nature of the forces driving events are potent. Obama understands these forces fully. So must we. Obama is not your typical politician. He does not concern himself with electoral prospects for himself or his party - not in the usual primary way. Understanding how fundamental Obama’s “change” really is is half the battle. When he says fundamental, he means it. The other half of the battle is to grasp that his “change” can only be fought in the arena of fundamental ideas, where he marches on.
[The preceding excerpts from Atlas Shrugged can be found in chapter VI, part II, pages 532-549]