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I’m a sucker for an Ayn Rand reference 2010-May-28 at 08:25 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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Instead of shrugging, Ron Johnson is running for office, by George F. Will, 27-May-2010

Before what he calls "the jaw-dropping" events of the past 19 months — TARP, the stimulus, Government Motors, the mistreatment of Chrysler’s creditors, Obamacare, etc. — the idea of running for office never crossed Ron Johnson’s mind. He was, however, dry tinder — he calls Ayn Rand’s "Atlas Shrugged" his "foundational book" — and now is ablaze, in an understated, Upper Midwestern way. This 55-year-old manufacturer of plastic products from Oshkosh, Wis., is what the Tea Party looks like.

He is trim, gray-haired and suddenly gray-suited. For years he has worn jeans and running shoes to his office, but now, under spousal duress, he is trying to look senatorial — "My wife upgraded me to brown shoes." He has been endorsed by the state party and will almost certainly win the September primary for the Republican nomination to run against Russ Feingold, who is seeking a fourth term in a year in which incumbency is considered a character flaw.

Former Republican governor Tommy Thompson led Feingold in polls and froze the race on the Republican side before deciding not to run. But in this season of simmering resentment of the political class, a neophyte such as Johnson might be a stronger candidate than a recycled executive. Johnson can fund himself. Asked how much of his wealth he will spend, if necessary, his answer is as simple as it is swift: "All of it."

I had a big Ayn Rand phase, too… it’s kinda sweet, in a weird way.  If you didn’t, you missed out on a seminal experience growing up.  It’s fun to be that certain that you’re right, while simultaneously being certain that other people are wrong.  At least it’s fun when you’re young… but in your 50’s, I have less interest in seeing it in leadership and in Congress.

I believe that Ron Johnson’s motivation for running is rooted in a deeply felt sense of morals… but I still can’t support him.  We already know what lies down the path of deregulation and the lack of government oversight, and it’s not the hidden capitalist lair, complete with gold-backed currency, of “Atlas Shrugged.”



1. byafi - 2010-May-28 at 11:03 PDT

You wrote, “We already know what lies down the path of deregulation and the lack of government oversight, ..” Unfortunately, I don’t. I’ve never lived at a time when there wasn’t excessive government regulation and oversight. But perhaps you have and can relate to us your experience of the kind of freedom the rest of us have never known.


2. Bryan Kopp - 2010-May-28 at 16:44 PDT

I think you put it perfectly with, “It’s fun to be that certain you’re right, while simultaneously being certain that other people are wrong.” As we both know, the freedom of unilateral conviction comes with a heavy price tag, but therein lies the beauty of not being stuck there! I think I did the right thing when I turned off the Roark Highway on the way to Jaded City. Despite the endless backroads of partiality, I’ve been fortunate enough encounter quite a few truths worth considering, and plenty more worth including.

3. Scott Arbeit - 2010-May-29 at 18:42 PDT

byafi –

If you’re looking for an idealized version of laissez-faire economics implemented on Earth, I doubt that there’s ever been one, or ever will be one, that would pass your purity test.

With that said, it’s absolutely obvious now that the pendulum between “anything goes” and “regulated into oblivion” was tilted significantly to the former during the 1990’s and 2000’s, and it led to the kinds of financial practices that — you may have missed this, or forgotten it already — almost led to the collapse of the entire financial industry around the world, which would have led the world into a global depression. That the Bush Administration’s and Obama Administration’s leadership (in particular Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner) in reacting to that crisis led to the soft landing that we’ve experienced in the past 18 months is, to me, an incredible example of leadership under duress.

So, to me, the real question isn’t about a purity test on either side of the issue, but rather the proper calibration of policy along that continuum in a given time, with a given set of circumstances. There is no single absolute right answer that’s optimal for all situations. What’s the right place to be right now? I think the Obama Administration is doing a fine job of finding that balance right now, and encouraging international agreement on it as well.

As for my opinion… I’m in favor of a period of slightly more regulation rather than less. The pendulum will swing, and we’ll loosen it up again in 15-20 years, but right now it’s time to rein in the excesses, and train a new generation of those in the financial industry to work within reasonable limits of what they can and cannot do.

Your mileage may vary. :)


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