Who is John Galt?

If you don’t recognize the question, bear with me for a moment.

My grandfather kept a cigar box in the basement. When he accumulated enough one- and five-dollar bills, he would cash them in for a crisp $100 bill. Those $100 bills went into a roll he kept in his dresser. When he had a thick roll of those, he knew he had enough to get a new car. He would drive whatever he was currently driving to the dealer, get the trade-in value of what was always a well-maintained car, and add whatever cash he required to drive out with a new car. This happened about every four or five years: a new car, paid off when he left the dealership.

Cutting hair in his barbershop, parking cars at the County Fair, selling his chickens and vegetables at a roadside farmer’s market, he would scrimp and save and provide his family with safe transportation. He did this in good times and bad. He was a proud man and had a right to be.

The “I Deserve It” Mentality

Lately, the local news has been chock-full of stories about sorrowful homeowners who took out sub-prime loans in the belief (false hope) that interest rates would only go down in the years to come. I have a hard time conjuring up the pity that would motivate me to want to cover their debts by participating in some contrived government solution. No more than for the highly reproductive parents of six kids under six years of age who find themselves strapped for cash and wanting the rest of America to wring every last drop of public assistance juice out of the already dry economy rag to make up for their lack of discretion or poor judgment.

Let’s pause here.

I know I may have just written two sentences that will make a lot of people mad. I also know I will be first in line to refinance when this foreclosure situation causes rates to go down to reinvigorate the market. But read between the lines, my friends. Why should any adult have to step in for another adult to clean up the mess due to an indiscretion? Should people help when their fellow man is in crisis? Of course, as in Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, plant closures, and such. But self-induced, poor-odds decision-making? No. I don’t think so. Your bad decision made the value of my house go down. I don’t appreciate that.

When you make a personal decision, like decide to max out a credit card to take your family to Disney World because you think “they’ve waited long enough,” I am not responsible for that decision. I should not have to pay to cover it.

Unfortunately, this “I deserve it” mentality seems to be big these days, and those of us who live cautiously and not off the sweat on the backs of our brothers feel like this isn’t fair. We are the whole elementary school class that was kept in for recess because two kids were fighting and the teacher found it easier just to penalize everyone instead of singling out the problem people.

“I simply cannot pay that,” you say?

Oh, but the rest of us should, when you go through foreclosure?

So, How Did We Get Here?

Where did this obnoxious, delusional sense of entitlement come from?

Like all problems, it started small, the first time someone let us get away with not taking responsibility for our actions because the offense seemed trivial. And then, it grew, from transgression to transgression, until society as a whole had grown to accept larger and larger gaps in responsibility. In fact, it’s not dissimilar to how vandalism, left unchecked, can quickly take over and destroy our public property.

Here’s but one example:

I hear from my friends how their kids turned down summer jobs over the last three months because they would not work for $5 an hour. Really? What the heck set of 17-year-old skills do you bring to the table? You’re a kid! You have no marketable talents yet. Take any job and go to work.

Who Is John Galt?

Amidst this stumbling, bumbling, “I simply can’t deal with my day,” public existence, our society has grown increasingly numb to these kinds of opinions–and I believe it’s dangerous.

Do you remember Ayn Rand’s masterpiece titled “Atlas Shrugged”?

Throughout the book, set in the future, one question keeps coming up. “Who is John Galt?” As the book progresses, we learn that John Galt is a forward-looking man who understands that man’s constant tolerance of a lack of personal responsibility will one day ruin the free world. At the book’s climax he delivers a worldwide speech to a planet that is in total disrepair because everyone pursued their selfish personal motives and relied on others, always erasing their problems or lack of work ethic.

In his speech he says, “I am a trader. I earn what I get in trade for what I produce. I ask for nothing more or nothing less than what I earn. That is justice. I don't force anyone to trade with me; I only trade for mutual benefit. Force is the great evil that has no place in a rational world. One may never force another human to act against his/her judgment. If you deny a man's right to Reason, you must also deny your right to your own judgment. Yet you have allowed your world to be run by means of force, by men who claim that fear and joy are equal incentives, but that fear and force are more practical.”

Have we gotten this far? Maybe not, but I can tell you the enemy has entered my house.

Enemy at the Gate

I dropped my son off at college a few weeks ago. In his room he now has a color TV, laptop computer, stereo system, highly upgraded cell phone, his own refrigerator, microwave, oscillating fan and a cupboard full of non-perishable food to go with his all-you-can-eat meal plan. I called after the first week of school. “How’s it going over there?,” I asked innocently enough. “Pretty rough, man,” he told me. “But I know I can hang in there,” he added as I heard popcorn popping away in his new microwave and his buddies chattering in the background.

When I hung up, my head hung low. “What’s the matter?” my wife asked. “They got to him too,” I said, the words “pretty rough” ringing in my ears.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com