Evanston, Illinois – John Galt, the central character in Ayn Rand’s epic 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged” is living in a government-assisted housing project built specifically for elderly Illinois residents. A portion of the rent is paid for by Medicaid.
Mr. Galt, who is 97 years old, has become a symbol for laissez-faire capitalism, and specifically for Ms. Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, in the years since the novel’s publication. Objectivism calls for a completely unobtrusive role by government in business. Mr. Galt’s character leads a shutdown of industry as a means of avoiding succumbing to what he sees as a socialist government agenda. He then attempts to begin a new society, based on his philosophy, with all the world’s titans of industry.
Asked about the apparent contradiction between his role in the book and his current living situation, Galt said, “Well, I lost my job. After the whole shutdown, we tried to make our own thing, our own society, but it failed, because we all wanted a bigger piece. So I shut it down and came back to the U.S. But I didn’t have my business anymore. It was all gone.”
Mr. Galt said he did find a job, as an engineer with Arcon Petroleum. He worked for Arcon for 31 years. Then, in 1992, he was fired.
“I couldn’t believe it. I had given my life to that company, and they threw me out, like I was nothing,” he said. “I started drinking then, lost a lot of people who were close to me, and then the whole meltdown happened.”
The “meltdown” Galt is referring to is the current economic recession, which began in 2007. He says that his pension, like the pensions of millions of Americans, was wiped away in the blink of an eye.
“It gets me disgusted, even talking about it,” he said. “I had my money with one of these banks, and they took all these risks with it, and poof! It’s gone. Just like that. And I had nothing.”
And that is when, after much hesitation due to what he calls “an immense amount of pride,” he looked into filing for assistance from the government.
“It was the last thing in the world that I wanted to do, but I didn’t have any choice. I needed to eat, I needed to live. So here we are.”
Galt acknowledges that if Ms. Rand were to somehow learn of his current situation, she would be shocked and appalled.
“She’d probably turn over in her grave,” he said. “But by herself. Not with any help from anyone.”