Roger Simon at PJ Media says “America has already gone Galt” (emphasis in original):
Tell all your “Objectivist” friends and the libertarian gang at Reason magazine to break out the champagne. Americans may have skipped the movie of Atlas Shrugged, nor have many read any of Ayn Rand’s works, but they have taken the author’s advice anyway and gone John Galt, quitting the work force in record numbers. According to Zero Hedge, the latest figures show the labor participation rate at 35 year low.
Realistically, it’s even more than 35 because that figure reflects an employment bump when larger numbers of women joined the work force in the seventies and eighties. (They’re gone now, with or without Gloria Steinem.)
Currently a record 91.8 million Americans are no longer looking for work. That’s almost one and a half times the entire population of France.
And that’s one way to look at it. Rand purists might point out that 92 million of us haven’t retired to a mountain redoubt in the Rockies; but still. (Well, sure, other Rand purists would argue that the long-term unemployed haven’t made a true “John Galt” decision. They haven’t sequestered themselves from the world for a conscious political-economic purpose, nor do they have plans to get on the radio and explain the realities of life in a 100-page monologue, as the prelude to a big comeback.)
But still. In terms of finality, drama, and meaning, the effective retirement of 92 million Americans from the labor force can at least be compared with going Galt. And that’s something most of us never thought we’d see in this lifetime.
Dr. Helen Smith chimed in, also at PJM, suggesting that many Americans who have dropped out of the government-tracked labor force are working – but off the grid. She figures they’re also the ones receiving benefits:
I do think that many people–and not just illegal immigrants–are working off the grid and collecting government benefits. This means that for many Americans, today’s economy can be providing them with more spending money, not less. Those who wish to stay under the radar might even be doing better.
The post has attracted a number of comments affirming her thesis. And there are some reasons to find cause for optimism in this analysis. One is that it means we’ve reached the critical point at which government has changed people’s behavior so much that life as we know it can’t continue.
That’s good news. It had to happen, because it isn’t possible to keep growing government and also have people’s economic and social choices remain the same. But the years from 1913 to 2009 were spent arguing over whether that was a valid thesis. For nearly a century, we were able to mostly outgrow the size of government (minus some bad years in the 1930s and 1970s), while partially mitigating government’s bad economic effects by going into greater and greater debt. The realities of people’s daily lives didn’t have to change radically or abruptly.
No longer. Under Obama, government has reached the critical size we can’t outgrow or borrow beyond. Change has come both radically and abruptly. It’s now 2014, and what’s clear is that government is the problem.
Individuals have no power, on a day-to-day basis, to change what government is doing. But they can change what they’re doing. It’s a well-established rule that if you want less of something, you should tax it. An inviolate corollary of that rule is that if you want less of something, you should regulate it. Do both, do them more and more, and you’ll get way less of the something. And what we’re getting less of today is income – productive work in general – exposed to the state’s regulation and taxation.
The “way less” doesn’t necessarily mean there is less exposed income in absolute terms. It means there is less than there would be if people could profitably work on the grid. That’s where the really good news comes in. If, say, even 65% of those 92 million Americans were working on the grid today, our economy would be thundering along with a dynamism we can hardly even imagine.
Not all of the 92 million will come back. Some will hit retirement age soon. Some are married women who’ve left the work force and decided to invest in traditional homemaking and a different lifestyle, as part of a permanent transformation of their family lives. Others, if they return to the grid, will do so as freelancers and sole proprietors rather than salaried employees.
So we probably won’t see all of the 92 million back on payroll, ever. But to attract the majority back, it’s the “grid” that has to change. Government is the problem element in the grid today. But if government changes and the grid changes in turn, the surge of responsible, meaningful, real American prosperity will be unstoppable.