In Greece, Atlas is Shrugging

Via BBC News – Greece MPs pass austerity plan amid violent protests:

Tens of thousands protested in Athens, where there were widespread clashes and buildings were set on fire. Violent protests were reported in cities across the country.

Protesters outside parliament threw stones and petrol bombs, and police responded with tear gas. Scores of police and protesters were injured.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos urged calm, insisting that the austerity package would “set the foundations for the reform and recovery of the economy”.

See also I predict a riot by Anita Acavalos at The Cobden Centre, originally posted in Feb 2010:

Although at first glance the situation Greece faces may seem as simply the result of gross incompetence on behalf of the government, a closer assessment of the country’s social structure and people’s deep-rooted political beliefs will show that this outcome could not have been avoided even if more skill was involved in the country’s economic and financial management.

The population has a deep-rooted suspicion of and disrespect for business and private initiative and there is a widespread belief that “big money” is earned by exploitation of the poor or underhand dealings and reflects no display of virtue or merit. Thus people feel that they are entitled to manipulate the system in a way that enables them to use the wealth of others as it is a widely held belief that there is nothing immoral about milking the rich. In fact, the money the rich seem to have access to is the cause of much discontent among people of all social backgrounds, from farmers to students. The reason for this is that the government for decades has run continuous campaigns promising people that it has not only the will but also the ABILITY to solve their problems and has established a system of patronages and hand-outs to this end.

Greece is in a thoroughly tragic and apparently predictable situation. I just picked up Ayn Rand’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, in which one article sets out the inevitability of collapse, once enterprise is rejected and success punished. It’s the theme Rand develops at excruciating length in her novel Atlas Shrugged. Via Wikipedia:

The book explores a dystopian United States where many of society’s most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by increasing taxation and government regulations and disappear. They are led by John Galt. Galt describes the strike as “stopping the motor of the world” by withdrawing the minds that drive society’s growth and productivity. In their efforts, these people “of the mind” hope to demonstrate that a world in which the individual is not free to create is doomed, that civilization cannot exist where every person is a slave to society and government, and that the destruction of the profit motive leads to the collapse of society. The protagonist, Dagny Taggart, sees society collapse around her as the government increasingly asserts control over all industry.

I’m not a fan of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism. It is thoroughly absent compassion, charity and magnanimity, which it ought not to be, since she acknowledged a philosophical debt only to Aristotle, who considered magnanimity to be mankind’s crowning virtue. Perhaps her revulsion at the embodiment of altruism in the collectivist state blinded her to the need for certain virtues in the individual, if society is to be decent. Nevertheless, in some parts of the world at least, Rand’s fiction is tragically prophetic.

I’m more optimistic about the UK. History suggests the British people are capable of choosing the right path when the moment comes.

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Comments & Responses

One Response so far.

  1. David Graham says:

    I actually just finished ‘Atlas Shrugged’ for the second time, great book, not brilliantly written and has a little too may monologues. Its themes and story are fantastic though.

    I think you’re right, to some extent, about the lack of compassion. However I think that individual liberty is a good thing, and when the state uses force to mandate compassion in our taxes and in our way of life, then it de-enfranchises people.

    Most people are fundamentally good, empowering them with their right to liberty, the right to keep what they earn, will transfer the state-mandated compassion to the wilful compassion and charity of the individual. That’s a far better system.