An absolutely illuminating post by Thomas Frank in Harper’s traces what happens when the 1 percent grab their picket signs and go on strike. From John Boehner’s September 15 announcement that “job creators in America are essentially on strike” until they get their tax cuts and other enrichments to Ayn Rand’s fictional, masters-of-the-universe strike to the “capital strikes” that really did take place during FDR’s tenure—they’re all of a moldy piece. Frank writes of the
revolt of business interests, which were supposedly struggling to preserve laissez-faire political conditions by withdrawing investment from the economy in 1937, sabotaging the recovery and the chances of President Roosevelt. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes delivered a ferocious iteration of this theme in December of that year, warning that “the United States is to have its first general sit-down strike—not of labor, not of the American people—but of the sixty families [a then-popular term for what we now call “the 1 percent”] and of the capital created by the whole American people of which the sixty families have obtained control.” Should Americans yield to the demands of the walkout, Ickes warned, “then the America that is to be will be a big-business Fascist America—an enslaved America.”
Perhaps this was the historical episode that inspired Ayn Rand to write Atlas Shrugged, the thousand-page 1957 novel in which politicians badmouth business, and business leaders launch a vast counterattack—a capital strike—that does indeed bring the nation to its knees. As Rand’s entrepreneur-hero John Galt announces in one of the book’s most famous passages: “We are on strike, we, the men of the mind. We are on strike against self-immolation. We are on strike against the creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties. We are on strike against the dogma that the pursuit of one’s happiness is evil. We are on strike against the doctrine that life is guilt.”
While the modern-day Galts, from Ronald Reagan to Scott Walker, have relentlessly attacked unions and equate labor strikes with commie fests, Boehner in a speech to the Economic Club spoke approvingly of strikes—but only for the Big Boys. From his website: “Speaker Boehner said ‘job creators in America are essentially on strike,’ paralyzed by “the constant threat of new taxes, out-of-control spending, and unnecessary regulation from a government that is always micromanaging, meddling, and manipulating.”
Other self-proclaimed “men of the mind,” like mentalist Newt Gingrich, have come up with a very Depression Era solution to all those workers getting rich on “unearned rewards”: fire ’em and get their kids to scrub toilets.