Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why is a Subsidy Wrong?

Adapted from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged

There was once a factory, the old kind where people had to use their arms and feet to produce goods. These days, of course, they mostly have to use their minds, but the idea is just the same - human labor gives value to things. Now, this factory was much like any other factory, not particularly prosperous, but not doing all that bad either. And then one day, it was bought by new owners - a rather eccentric brother-sister duo. Now, they had some radical ideas... and I would be lying if I said people did not like them. They loved them, as will you.

The idea was very simple - henceforth, every man and woman working in that factory would be paid according to their need. But then, how is one to determine need? Now, this factory was in no Communist country - it was a democracy, and right proud of it. Every man and every woman was equal and had a voice that would count. Therefore, each month, a general assembly of all workers would be called and people would explain their need. Someone had a baby and needed money to purchase diapers; someone had a sick grandmother who needed medical attention; someone had broken a hand and would not be able to work for a month, but still needed to feed his family. Every need would go to vote and no penny would be given without the consent of the majority. This utopia was certainly what the great founders of democracy wanted and nobody could find any fault with it.

Except for one problem: not everybody was working equally. Of course, all work in the factory is important, for if someone forgets to screw in that last nut and bolt, would the entire machine not come crashing down? But not all people worked the same: there was the fellow, down by the pistons, who took a nap every now and then, leaving it to the man in quality check to fix what he had forgotten. Alas, the man in quality check was not the most dependable of people either, for he had recently fallen in love and kept losing himself in green valleys with his maiden. Which is all fine of course, for are we all not human? But, as man learned centuries ago, much to his chagrin at that, money does not grow on trees. And as machine after machine came about defective, the factory started to make losses. A few good workers decided that something must be done, so they started to check what everyone else was doing. The young lady by the man in pistons took time to check on his work, often doing it for him while he dozed off. Production fell, but at least everything that was being made was being sold. Profits were still low, but at least everyone was able to meet their most basic needs.

And then there came another general meeting to vote on needs. The young lady said that, since she was doing the work of two workers, she should be paid as much. To this, the young man from the pistons objected and said that he was a wee bit anemic, so he got tired easily and dozed off. And he was aware of the problem and had just recently started medical treatment for it, for which he would need a little more money. If the young lady were to get more money, and consequently he less, because there was only so much to go around, how could he possibly get better? The general council agreed with him and he was given a little more, and consequently she was given a little less, because there was only so much to go around. And then they were asked to return to their work.

But anemia is a funny thing - some believe it is contagious. Of course, science says otherwise, but it is people's beliefs that matter in a democracy, and so more and more workers began to be infected by the said affliction. Defects were on the rise, so the healthy workers had to work double shifts to keep the factory afloat. But alas, how much could so few men and women work? There was less money to go around every month and the poor anemic workers had to be paid extra, for the doctor had advised them to eat more and rest. That month, the general council decided that the healthy workers must forego one square meal a day and work one extra shift - a request that might seem harsh at first, but it was certainly necessary for the good of the entire factory and hence, endorsed by the majority, which is to say, it was a democratic decision.

But, unknown to everyone else, there was another general meeting that month: of the healthy workers. Had the others found out about it, they surely would have been censured at the regular general meeting. But since they were the only ones working in the factory to support their brothers and sisters now, there was no such danger. It was in this meeting then, that they aired their grievances to those ears that would hear them - their own, that is. There were many grievances indeed, but the chief among them was that they would quite possibly die of exhaustion or starvation, or a combination thereof, if they continued to work in a manner thus. And then, the young man, who was by now too poor to afford a roof over his head, and so slept in the factory itself, near the furnaces (for where else can one find privacy, uncomfortable as it may be?), asked a simple question: if we are to die of work, why must we work? Why, we must work to support our sick brethren, a healthy and dying man replied. And what would they do to support us, you ask? Why, they would come to our rescue once we are unable to work. And when would we be unable to work? When we are on our deathbed, of course!

All found this reasoning valid. All, but one: John Galt was his name, a funny character, not particularly liked by anyone. He said that he did not want to die, or even come anywhere near his deathbed. Not even to help his fellow workers, who were recovering from anemia. That night, John Galt left the factory for the wilderness beyond, curses flying around from the other healthy workers, chastising him for being selfish and not thinking about the well-being of everyone else. He was never seen again, the selfish idiot. May the Gods feed him to the wolves.

But that was still one hand too less - whatever workers were left were stretched to their limit. The young man, adjusting the screws, was trying to eat his sandwich and continue working at the same time - for if he stopped for lunch, there was nobody to take his place. Alas, he was not trained in the fine art of acrobatics, and a screw went flying through his shoulder, rendering him unable to work. The situation was grave - so a special general meeting was called. Together, they would find a way out, as any democratic country would. The majority concluded that the young man, like his anemic brothers, must rest and recover, while the healthy workers, now fewer than ever, and hence far from a majority, must find a way to keep production running. And, the democratic citizens they were, they accepted the verdict of the majority and found creative ways to work. Ah, the wonders of the mind! The young lady, so strong, she decided to stop eating altogether and concentrate on her work so as to help her anemic and wounded brethren. The middle-aged man, who gave the prime of his life to the factory, decided to stop sleeping, for there would be more time for that after retirement. Almost prophetically, he did find much more time, for he died a few days later, by his workstation, of course. But wherever he was, he was not alone for too long, for the middle-aged man who worked next to him followed suit. And eventually all the healthy workers had a general meeting again, although in a rather unearthly realm.

The next general meeting was thus, presented with a strange problem. Everyone still needed to recover from anemia, and one even from a wound to the shoulder, but there was nobody left to earn anything for them anymore. Nobody, except John Galt. And so they cursed John Galt, cursed him for refusing to die for their needs, which were the righteous needs of the majority; cursed him for being so base as to consider the fruits of his labor as his own; cursed him for not even presenting himself before the general council to hear their insults, as everyone in a democratic society must. And once they tired, they cursed God for spreading anemia; and cursed God for wickedly summoning the healthy and dead workers away; and cursed God for letting John Galt run away. And then they blamed the factory for not producing suitable products; they blamed the buyers for not accepting their machines, which were just as good as others except that they did not work; and finally, they blamed each other, for they had no one else left to blame. But of course, no man or woman blamed themselves, for what is the purpose of democracy if each man and each woman has to be responsible for themselves? And so, the great anemic majority ran the factory through general council, surely the most honest, open and democratic means to run a factory. And honestly, openly and democratically, they dug their own graves.

All, except John Galt, who was a selfish man.  


indradeep said...

Excellently written.... but in reality the communist order prescribes if those anemic sons and daughters of bitches dont work, sign them up for the practice of firing squad as was done in Stalingard and Tienanmen Square. John Galts dont need to either run away or work extra in such cases.

Anonymous said...

The cost of monitoring, surveillance etc. etc. I'm reminded of jargon related to Principal-agent theory.

Each man to himself. And so, we must become John Galt. :)