A small excerpt from “Francisco’s Money Speech” in Atlas Shrugged:
“Money is your means of survival. The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men’s vices or men’s stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment’s or a penny’s worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame.”
I can’t remember exactly when I read Atlas Shrugged for the first time. It was probably 2008, but I may be off by a year or so. Despite the fact that I don’t agree with absolutely everything in it, this was a life-changing experience for me. I had always sort of thought that maybe I was really in favor of free markets and really opposed to government intervention, but it took this book to help me realize that I absolutely was. In Atlas in general, and in Francisco’s Money Speech in particular, I saw, articulated for the first time, things I always believed but never quite consciously realized.
From the first time I read it, this speech was my favorite passage in the book. Francisco calmly and systematically destroys virtually every objection to capitalism. He busts apart economic fallacies that apparently were no less common in the 1950s than they are today. It’s a great small primer that can stand alone as a brief commentary on why capitalism is morally superior to socialism.
It also spoke to me on a more personal level, although I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. The section I quoted rings particularly true to me. I think we’ve all met people in our lives who were economically well off. Some of them are very happy and enjoy their wealth immensely, while others, despite being wealthy, are angry and bitter and resentful of wealth and money. What separates these two groups? I’ve found anecdotally that Francisco’s theory rings true, that those who worked hard and earned their wealth legitimately through voluntary trade tend to appreciate and enjoy the fruits of their labor, while those who earn their wealth through graft and fraud and coercion typically feel guilt and shame, and resent their money because they cannot take pride in how they earned it.
This was certainly the case for me. As some of you may know, for the last nine years, I was in the military. Pretty much the worst possible job for a committed libertarian to hold (well, Chairman of the Fed is probably up there…). To make matters worse, I was making a lot of money in the military. Now, as a capitalist, I generally believed that the amount of money someone makes is pretty much directly proportional to their value to society at large. I liked money, and I wanted to have more of it. But more and more, I felt a strong sense of guilt attached to the money I made. I wasn’t rich by any means, but I was making easily double what my salary would have been on the free market. Here I was, a young man with an easy, high paying job, completely unable to enjoy the benefits of it because of the shame attached to having not earned it legitimately. There was simply no escaping the fact that the money I made was a product of coercion. That the “service” I was preforming was a service that most people didn’t actually want.
I think the military sets it up this way intentionally. They get you to enlist, and then shower you with overwhelmingly generous pay and benefits (alongside propaganda convincing you that you aren’t getting enough), which most people grow accustomed to. Then, when your enlistment is close to expiring, you weigh your options: Do I stay in the military, where I am comfortable and richly rewarded, or do I strike out on my own, facing an uncertain job market, ridiculous medical costs, and almost certainly a profound decrease in pay? Even for me, this was a pretty tough decision. Someone with mainstream political/philosophical beliefs doesn’t have a prayer. It’s no wonder that retention is at an all-time high. They want soldiers and sailors to feel dependent on them. They want you to think that getting out and trying to make it on your own is foolish.
What did the military do for me? Aside from successfully bribing me for many years with lavish pay, incredible benefits, and essentially a free education (none of which I was really able to enjoy, because of the aforementioned guilt and shame attached to it), I would say that it made me weak. It made me complacent. It made me come to expect that great rewards could be had with minimal effort. Trust me; I can understand why some employers are reluctant to hire veterans. In my experience, the military wasn’t a training ground for how to succeed by tirelessly serving your customers, but a training ground for how to get by and squeeze the most money for yourself out of the taxpayers with the smallest amount of effort possible.
That said, I think I kept my sanity and resisted most of the indoctrination relatively well. I was always conscious that I was being underworked and overpaid. I kept telling myself that if I wanted my freedom back, I’d have to be willing to work much harder and for a much lower salary.
And now, I am doing exactly that. It’s not all good news – my current job is for a public university, hardly an ideal situation. But that said, the pay is significantly lower (hard to feel guilty about money when you don’t have much of it), and it’s certainly a much more favorable situation than being in the military. My goal is still to get employment in the private sector, but hardly anyone there seemed to want me (and as I said, I can’t exactly blame them).
The point of this story is to emphasize that now, I’m actually fairly busy. I’m learning a new job and trying to prove myself to the world that I have what it takes to succeed. That I can make it on my own. The new job has longer hours, and a significantly longer commute. In my now significantly reduced free time, I’m still reading political and economics books and studying to improve myself, hoping to build at resume that someday will allow me to join the voluntary sector and become a rich person who can truly feel proud of their money and enjoy every last cent. If I can’t be Francisco D’Anconia, maybe at least I can be Scrooge McDuck. Because of all these new commitments, some sacrifices have to be made, and one of the sacrifices is going to be this blog. Although I’m not officially “quitting,” I am going to abandon my traditional Monday-Wednesday-Friday update schedule. Unofficially, I’d like to stay on pace for maybe one piece a week, most likely on Sundays, but even this cannot really be promised. I’ll continue to write when I have free time and when I feel like I have something valuable to say, but honestly, being forced to come up with three things a week was starting to grate on me and feel more like work than fun even before the new job. Now, I just simply don’t have the time.
I hope that you’ll continue to check back on this site every once in a while to see if I have anything new up. I’d like to thank everyone who has read, and who has helped inspire me to achieve more for myself. Maybe someday I’ll be able to get back to doing this sort of thing more often, but until then, I’ll do what I can, when I can, and hope that’s enough.