I came across the expression “Go Galt” in Paul Krugman’s article titled “The Twinkie manifesto” appearing in November 20 New York Times. The phrase appears in the second paragraph of the following interesting remark:

The data confirm Fortune’s impressions. Between the 1920s and the 1950s real incomes for the richest Americans fell sharply, not just compared with the middle class but in absolute terms. According to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, in 1955 the real incomes of the top 0.01 percent of Americans were less than half what they had been in the late 1920s, and their share of total income was down by three-quarters.

Strange to say, however, the oppressed executives Fortune portrayed in 1955 didn’t go Galt and deprive the nation of their talents. On the contrary, if Fortune is to be believed, they were working harder than ever.

I learned from Freedictionary that “Go Galt” means “to cease working in response to punitive taxes as a form of protest.”

What is the origin of “Go Galt”?

Is “Go Galt” used only for describing the business owners’ giving up business to protest heavy tax? Is it the wealthy’s or employers’ counter version of workers’ “strike”?

Can I use “Go Galt” for simply meaning “stop working / business” without a heavy-tax connotation?

  • You can read all about John Galt's speech here. I haven't, but I think it's Too Localised for ELU. – FumbleFingers Nov 20 '12 at 2:26
  • 2
    One would have to be fairly well read to get this reference. – Robusto Nov 20 '12 at 3:11
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers. Though I’m not familiar with exact definition and standards of “Local-ness” in the ELU, I’m asking (1) the interpretation of the “full-fledged” idiomatic expression in the statement of (2) the world renowned 2008 Nobel Economics prize winner and co-ed columnist of NY-Times talking about (3) the “universal” axiom that high tax on the wealthy doesn’t necessarily demoralize their working motivation by quoting (5) the world-famous Forbes magazine’s statistics in (4) the NY-Times which are read on paper and online by tens of millions people worldwide. – Yoichi Oishi Nov 20 '12 at 3:47
  • Continued: It seems to me none of the above factors seems to fit to the name of “local” you like to use. – Yoichi Oishi Nov 20 '12 at 3:48
  • 1
    @Robusto: If you've read the book, then it would be familiar (true of anything). But the concept was spread pretty widely at least in the news and pundits I heard recently with respect to the recent American election; way oversimplified: rich people not wanting to pay taxes for the use by the leeches, the 47%. – Mitch Nov 20 '12 at 15:15

Without going into all the details, the phrase is patterned after Ayn Rand's science fiction novel "Atlas Shrugged", where the genius creators of progress remove themselves from the wider society to prevent being extorted for the benefit of others. Taxes are only one kind of extortion. To 'Go Galt' can be used metaphorically for any kind of disinvolvement when one is feeling being taken advantage of, but is often used for entrepreneurs and taxes.


To answer the question directly: no, not really. It is inherently politically-loaded, because the phrase comes from one of Any Rand's ideological novels.

In the article you quote, it is being used sardonically, along with using the word "oppressed" to refer to highly-paid executives. The term is being used in political context, in this case by someone who is famously critical of the book and the ideology it espouses. Here, he's actually specifically saying that in real life examples, the fictional argument isn't borne out, and is basically using the phrase literally (if negatively), and connected directly to its original source, not in the abstract or as a figure of speech.

Were someone to use this phrase a non-political way, it would probably either be interpreted as actually more political than intended, or it would be taken as a sort of absurdist humor (by applying a heavily-loaded term where it doesn't apply). Probably your audience would just be confused.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.