Spoiler alert. If Ayn Rand’s fictionalised neo-liberal bible, Atlas Shrugged, is on your wish list of books, read no further.
It’s the exhilarating but exhausting story of an America in which the enemies of the state are its entrepreneurs. Seen as having wealth disproportionate to the rest of society, the government imposes dire measures to make things equal by penalising the rich and the clever. As the nation descends into chaos, the most successful business owners (and other high achievers) begin to disappear.
So how realistic is it that someday entrepreneurs will be the ones going on strike?
The reader soon learns they’ve gone on strike in protest against the ever-expanding role of government. As one of the strike leaders tells it:
“Why should this seem so startling? There is only one kind of men who have never been on strike in human history. Every other kind and class have stopped, when they so wished, and have presented demands to the world, claiming to be indispensable - except the men who have carried the world on their shoulders, have kept it alive, have endured torture as sole payment, but have never walked out on the human race. Well, their turn has come. Let the world discover who they are, what they do and what happens when they refuse to function. This is the strike of the men of the mind … This is the mind on strike.”
So how realistic is it that someday entrepreneurs will be the ones going on strike? A glance at the news indicates they have reason to do so. This past week alone, business groups and organisations have expressed their displeasure with labour costs, business taxes and government regulations. Perhaps backroom lobbying, arguably their preferred tactic, will soon be replaced with industrial action.
Although, really, that’s unlikely. The nature of the entrepreneur, based on a study of 14,000 of them published in the Small Business Economics journal, demonstrates they’re more individually oriented than the general population. This means it’s improbable they’ll be interested enough to organise such action collectively when their preference is to work things out solo.
It’s also the case that entrepreneurs, by and large, are driven by the profit motive. Their relentless pursuit of profit is often what makes them the target of contempt. But while they frequently hyperventilate about the costs and imposts of doing business, it’s inconceivable any of them would diminish their profits further by shutting up shop for a day or more.
The more likely scenario, one that’s already underway, is the pseudo-strike. An example can be seen in the establishment of corporate headquarters in notorious tax havens. It’s estimated more than 2 million companies have over $20 trillion stashed away in places like the Cayman Islands. You can also see the pseudo-strike in the outsourcing of labour to regions where wages are low and protections less inhibitive – places like India and the Philippines.
But what if, hypothetically, business owners were to go on a full-on strike? What consequences would ensue? In Atlas Shrugged, it’s pretty much the destruction of society as we know it. Products are no longer manufactured. Food is no longer produced. Fighting and looting and starvation become widespread.
That may be an unrealistic depiction, but a more certain outcome is that workers and trade unions eventually realise just how much they rely on business to create and produce the jobs and inventions on which so many of us depend.
Much of the criticism about Rand’s philosophy is that it’s ruthless and greedy, where the self-interest of each individual is considered paramount. To a certain extent, that criticism is valid but it misses the inspiration inherent in many entrepreneurs – their struggle, grit, perseverance. Sure, much of it undertaken for their own selfish gain, but with subsequent benefits for all.
Do you think it’s time for businesses to go on strike? What would happen?
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