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Reissued book a look into the future?

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Retired business editor Jack Markowitz writes Sundays and Thursdays.

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By Jack Markowitz

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Those idle coal barges often seen rusting along the riverbanks of Pittsburgh — don't dismiss them as eyesores. In some future “world order” they could be where you're living.

Watch out for a time, too, when products don't have to be sold anymore, but “allocated.” When job performance won't count nearly as much as political correctness. And when volunteering won't be voluntary. Workers might have to “volunteer” to bring out 98 percent votes on election days.

Such prospects impart a chill in “The Journal of David Q. Little,” a novel that skirted obsolescence when the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union's collapse 21 Christmases ago.

Author R. Daniel McMichael, now 87, might have written more novels if he hadn't had a day job all this time. He was secretary of the Sarah Scaife Foundation, supporting conservative public policy approaches. His own personal emphasis has been on national security, particularly anti-missile defenses for the U.S. homeland. They've been feasible for a long time now, he says, yet still haven't been deployed. Even after all these years.

McMichael had aimed his 1967 novel against a familiar defeatism of the past, “better Red than dead.” If we didn't scrap our nuclear weapons, no matter what Soviets did, all of life might go up in smoke, mushroom cloud-shaped. “Little” was a powerfully imagined tale of just how deadening American life might be under Marxism.

Then history pulled a fast one.

Even while doing the victory lap for capitalism, free societies led by the United States took a wrong turn towards the welfare state.

And now we've got super-sized, regulation-bound, bankruptcy-inclined government, trillions in debt and with disquieting likenesses to Dan McMichael's dystopia.

Hence the reissue of “The Journal of David Q. Little,” this time in paperback (National Institute Press, Fairfax, Va., 561 pages, $26).

The book's hero is the proverbial “little guy,” citizen, husband and father of ordinary ability and decency. He's a salesman for a Pittsburgh steel company. Caught up in the bullying demands of a new “world order,” he tries hard to do the right thing. Not to denounce the head of his company as a threat to world peace, for example. But how can he risk his own shaky career, family and mortgage? Community ”activists” keep pushing him around to advance some larger “cause.” How he'd love to escape to Canada.

Not much funny here.

Still, it's hard not to smile at the socialist bonbon Little is offered when thrown out of work. It's because he's a superior worker. No trouble at all finding a new job, see. “I have to let 26 men go,” a bureaucrat tells him. “If I part with the best ones, then at least I've let guys go who have the guts to land on their feet okay. Otherwise, I couldn't sleep nights. ...”

The gloves are off, though, when he's forced out of another job, purely on politics. He insists on being fired; at least that will be a black mark on his tyrannical boss. The man obviously can't manage a happy staff. But fired, Little would leave without a cent. “Resigning,” he gets two months' severance. He takes the check, hating himself.

All this makes a better read than a life to live. Let's hope Americans of the Obama-and-after economy can avert it.

Jack Markowitz is a columnist Thursdays for Trib Total Media. Email



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