While conferences and public appearances are on hold during lockdown, The Atlas Society CEO Jennifer Grossman has been hosting “Ask The Atlas Society” video chats with our student partner organizations, including Young Americans for Liberty, Students for Liberty and Turning Point USA, answering their questions about Ayn Rand, providing her perspective on the current crisis, and giving students helpful advice for applying the values of Open Objectivism to stay sane and productive. The process gave her an idea: We don’t have all the answers, but we’ve got a lot of really great, smart friends. Why don’t we get them involved?
So we flipped our “Ask The Atlas Society” series and created a second series: “The Atlas Society Asks.”
Grover Norquist is the first person we asked. Norquist is the President of Americans for Tax Reform and a longtime advocate for keeping the size and scope of government in check –– as a result he’s been a lightning rod of criticism for those seeking to blame limited government for the spread of coronavirus in the United States. He’s also been a good friend of our CEO going back to her days as a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush –– and he’s been a great friend to The Atlas Society, serving on the Host Committee for our annual fundraising gala (even doing stand-up comedy at our first!), and being a booster for our videos and social media content.
Watch the video now.
In terms of responding to critics of his dogged defense of smaller government, Norquist argued that statists use every crisis as an opportunity to call for greater government spending and authoritarian intervention, but COVID-19 is the perfect example of why they are wrong. The federal government is “too large, and too powerful and too fat to be nimble, and quick and get things done on time to save lives.” That goes for the FDA and the CDC as well:
What we’ve found with the coronavirus is that the FDA and the CDC and the White House and the Federal Government and the 50 states have all discovered that government regulations and government rules have slowed down their ability to get things done.
In fact, federal, state, and local regulations that impeded the efforts of healthcare professionals to treat the sick and of healthy people to protect themselves have finally been scrapped. Doctors and nurses can now cross state lines and practice with expired licenses:
State by state people are saying, “Hey, we would like doctors, we would like nurses.” And by the way, if your doctor’s license ran out in the last two years, we still say you’re cool. Your license is still good. You don’t have to go out and fill out forms again, or go back to college or take remedial reading or do whatever it is they do to make your license renewed.
And truckers can haul supplies with less and less red tape:
There was a rule in Texas that you couldn’t carry liquor or alcohol and groceries on the same truck to go somewhere. Well what do you make Purell and hand sanitizer out of? Alcohol. So they scrapped that rule.
. . .
They had a federal rule that you had to fill out all these forms if you were a truck driver . . . for purposes of getting things to hospitals they got rid of that rule. It’s gone for right now.
In addition to health care and trucking, Norquist speculated that the highly regulated public education sector will face steep competition post-coronavirus as families homeschooling by default start to question the cost of their kids’ education:
I’m not sure how the public schools are going to justify how much money we spend on some of those buildings and how much money we spend on non-teacher salaries. When people realize you can do a lot of this online, I do think you will see a lot more homeschooling. Not everybody’s up for that but about two million people were homeschooling two months ago, and now tens of millions of people K-12 are homeschooling.
Ditto for those pricey college degrees:
Can Harvard really charge as much as they’ve been charging when you realize you can get most of the education bit of that online? How much more will there be online competitive new schools starting online? I’d like Microsoft to start one up. Let’s get some of this wisdom that exists in the private sector and go straight to students and to families.
Norquist, who is probably most famous for saying that he wanted to shrink government down to a size where he could drown it in a bathtub, is also a big fan of Ayn Rand. Grossman asked him if he thought that the money the Fed is pouring into the shut down economy would have long-term consequences. Norquist was quick to point out that the money was going to replace earnings people had lost through no fault of their own:
The restaurant didn’t make a mistake. They didn’t do something wrong. They didn’t deserve to go bankrupt. This was the government stepping on top of people’s lives, their businesses, their ability to take care of their own family. So now the government says, “Okay we’ll give you some money to reduce the damage so you can pay rent, maybe keep hiring people or keep people on.”
But Grossman asked, “What about Ayn Rand?” How can Objectivists reconcile the government’s coronavirus response to Rand’s laissez-faire approach? For what it’s worth, Norquist concludes, the cash outlay is not primarily a function of greed. Again, much of the money is going to replace earnings people lost through no fault of their own. Greed, the desire for the unearned as Rand properly defined it, is not then the principle at work:
The left, the advocates of statism, the ones who want to run other people’s lives, they think that it’s greedy for you to want to keep what you have created. Greed is wanting to take away from somebody else, something that they created. Greed is wanting something without earning it.
If there is a bright side, we can be grateful that the money is going to individuals and not to a new government agency:
So to the extent that you’re doing that you are not creating a new government agency. You are not raising a tax that will be raising money a hundred years from now and nobody will remember why, or where that tax came from. And now it will be funding other new and different things.
So we don’t appear to be getting much permanent damage.
As the pandemic wanes and people get back to work, Norquist sees a silver lining. People may rediscover the moral virtue and the financial benefits of letting people live their own lives and trusting them to figure out what is best for them to do:
It is very, very interesting to see every new generation coming to grips with the idea that stuff isn’t free, things are created, businesses are created and that the whole goal of a civilized life and world is to let people be free to do what they want. They can go be monks if they want and sit on a mountaintop, or they can create steel mills and you know what, that’s their business. Everyone is interested in doing something interesting, we just have different ideas of what is interesting. You just don’t get to tell everybody else what to do.