Atlas Shrugged and the Pyramid of Ability
By Alex Epstein (sent to Fortune magazine, June 12, 2007)
Re "How to run a budget like an idiot" (June 11, 2007)
Matt Miller thinks it is self-evident that "the top 1 percent of U.S. earners" should not receive "as much income as the bottom 150 million." Those who disagree are smeared as having had "an Ayn Rand infatuation in high school that [they] never outgrew"--and as believing that "those top 300,000 supermen are dragging the 150 million proles around like a ball and chain, and the proles should shut up and be grateful."
But this smear of Rand betrays a sub-high-school understanding of her views. In "Atlas Shrugged," Rand puts forward the idea of the "pyramid of ability"--the view that the most able and productive minds of a society create the inventions, businesses, and tools that make those of lesser ability incomparably more productive than they would otherwise be. In no way does this constitute regarding normal laborers as "proles"; indeed, Rand appreciated and admired the work of any productive individual. What she did object to was the denunciation and punishment of great wealth creators for their success by those of lesser productive ability. Such a state of affairs exists in our current system, where the greatest wealth creators have upwards of 50 percent of their income expropriated by federal, state, and local governments. This expropriation, not labor, as such, is the "ball and chain" on these "supermen"--an undeserved weight that Miller and others only seek to increase. What is wrong with this mentality, and what happens when it takes over a society? To find out, read--really read--"Atlas Shrugged."