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Thread: 'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

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    'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123146363567166677.html



    'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

    By STEPHEN MOORE

    Some years ago when I worked at the libertarian Cato Institute, we used to label any new hire who had not yet read "Atlas Shrugged" a "virgin." Being conversant in Ayn Rand's classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement. If only "Atlas" were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I'm confident that we'd get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.

    Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.

    Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. The left, naturally, hated her. But as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated "Atlas" as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.

    For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

    In the book, these relentless wealth redistributionists and their programs are disparaged as "the looters and their laws." Every new act of government futility and stupidity carries with it a benevolent-sounding title. These include the "Anti-Greed Act" to redistribute income (sounds like Charlie Rangel's promises soak-the-rich tax bill) and the "Equalization of Opportunity Act" to prevent people from starting more than one business (to give other people a chance). My personal favorite, the "Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act," aims to restrict cut-throat competition between firms and thus slow the wave of business bankruptcies. Why didn't Hank Paulson think of that?

    These acts and edicts sound farcical, yes, but no more so than the actual events in Washington, circa 2008. We already have been served up the $700 billion "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act" and the "Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act." Now that Barack Obama is in town, he will soon sign into law with great urgency the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan." This latest Hail Mary pass will increase the federal budget (which has already expanded by $1.5 trillion in eight years under George Bush) by an additional $1 trillion -- in roughly his first 100 days in office.

    The current economic strategy is right out of "Atlas Shrugged": The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you. That's the justification for the $2 trillion of subsidies doled out already to keep afloat distressed insurance companies, banks, Wall Street investment houses, and auto companies -- while standing next in line for their share of the booty are real-estate developers, the steel industry, chemical companies, airlines, ethanol producers, construction firms and even catfish farmers. With each successive bailout to "calm the markets," another trillion of national wealth is subsequently lost. Yet, as "Atlas" grimly foretold, we now treat the incompetent who wreck their companies as victims, while those resourceful business owners who manage to make a profit are portrayed as recipients of illegitimate "windfalls."

    When Rand was writing in the 1950s, one of the pillars of American industrial might was the railroads. In her novel the railroad owner, Dagny Taggart, an enterprising industrialist, has a FedEx-like vision for expansion and first-rate service by rail. But she is continuously badgered, cajoled, taxed, ruled and regulated -- always in the public interest -- into bankruptcy. Sound far-fetched? On the day I sat down to write this ode to "Atlas," a Wall Street Journal headline blared: "Rail Shippers Ask Congress to Regulate Freight Prices."

    In one chapter of the book, an entrepreneur invents a new miracle metal -- stronger but lighter than steel. The government immediately appropriates the invention in "the public good." The politicians demand that the metal inventor come to Washington and sign over ownership of his invention or lose everything.

    The scene is eerily similar to an event late last year when six bank presidents were summoned by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to Washington, and then shuttled into a conference room and told, in effect, that they could not leave until they collectively signed a document handing over percentages of their future profits to the government. The Treasury folks insisted that this shakedown, too, was all in "the public interest."

    Ultimately, "Atlas Shrugged" is a celebration of the entrepreneur, the risk taker and the cultivator of wealth through human intellect. Critics dismissed the novel as simple-minded, and even some of Rand's political admirers complained that she lacked compassion. Yet one pertinent warning resounds throughout the book: When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear -- leaving everyone the poorer.

    One memorable moment in "Atlas" occurs near the very end, when the economy has been rendered comatose by all the great economic minds in Washington. Finally, and out of desperation, the politicians come to the heroic businessman John Galt (who has resisted their assault on capitalism) and beg him to help them get the economy back on track. The discussion sounds much like what would happen today:

    Galt: "You want me to be Economic Dictator?"

    Mr. Thompson: "Yes!"

    "And you'll obey any order I give?"

    "Implicitly!"

    "Then start by abolishing all income taxes."

    "Oh no!" screamed Mr. Thompson, leaping to his feet. "We couldn't do that . . . How would we pay government employees?"

    "Fire your government employees."

    "Oh, no!"

    Abolishing the income tax. Now that really would be a genuine economic stimulus. But Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Washington want to do the opposite: to raise the income tax "for purposes of fairness" as Barack Obama puts it.

    David Kelley, the president of the Atlas Society, which is dedicated to promoting Rand's ideas, explains that "the older the book gets, the more timely its message." He tells me that there are plans to make "Atlas Shrugged" into a major motion picture -- it is the only classic novel of recent decades that was never made into a movie. "We don't need to make a movie out of the book," Mr. Kelley jokes. "We are living it right now."

    Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for The Wall Street Journal editorial page.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Official Thread Jacker Senior Contributor gunnut's Avatar
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    Look no further than California. Our strategy is to extort the rich to pay for welfare programs and government pensions. When times were good they stayed because they made more than lost. When times are bad, guess who leave the state first? The rich. They can afford to.

    Massive environmental regulations have driven most of our manufacturing jobs out of state.

    CA passed some "anti global warming" law a while back that was said to "generate gree jobs" Now our esteemed governor wants to selectively suspend some of those rules to encourage growth. So it didn't generate jobs. In fact it destroyed jobs. Wow who could've thunk it!

    Where CA goes, the rest of the country will follow. I sure hope not. We ain't going to a pretty place. I want to at least have the option of escaping the green curtain.
    "Only Nixon can go to China." -- Old Vulcan proverb.

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    Senior Contributor Stitch's Avatar
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    Guess I'm going to have to dig out my copy of "Atlas Shrugged" and actually read it this time . . .
    "There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you're not there any more." -Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge

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    very good post I read the article at work this week.
    Yes we are very much in the midst of the book turning into real life.
    Originally from Sochi, Russia.

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    Meh. Can't get past the awful writing, cardboard characters, bombastic tone, and Rand's retarded philosophy. Important message about freedom and decentralization surrounded by a bunch of crap.
    I enjoy being wrong too much to change my mind.

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    Contributor Hitman817's Avatar
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    I stumbled over this book a few years ago when I visited a book-store in London and loved it immadiately, the writing and even the cardboard characters.
    I'm always surprised how relavant the topics in this book still are. It was quite an eyeopener

    My English wasn't that good back then, so I had to read it again and again, it's quite worn out now, I think I'm going to need a new one, since I intend to give it to my children later.

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    Former Staff Senior Contributor Ironduke's Avatar
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    I've read Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and have heard plenty about this book. I'll have to add it to my reading list.

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    All in all, is this book worth reading?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mobbme View Post
    All in all, is this book worth reading?
    It's a good balance to say Upton Sinclair. I had to read the Jungle twice for coursework, well it was assigned twice anyway. Ayn Rand isn't as popular with college profs, but it is influential, which means you should be at least familiar with the themes. Oh yeah there is a movie coming out based on the book, I think it stars Angliena Jolie. )

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    Quote Originally Posted by Herodotus View Post
    It's a good balance to say Upton Sinclair. I had to read the Jungle twice for coursework, well it was assigned twice anyway. Ayn Rand isn't as popular with college profs, but it is influential, which means you should be at least familiar with the themes. Oh yeah there is a movie coming out based on the book, I think it stars Angliena Jolie. )
    Sweeeeet, so now I can picture her while reading ))

    I did the same when I got "The Beach" by Alex Garland, I pictured Leonardo DiCaprio The movie wasn't out yet, but there were talks that there would be a movie based on the novel and he would be the star. It made the novel more interesting

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    Banned Defense Professional Bluesman's Avatar
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    It is the single most important book I ever read. Had more influence upon my thinking and the formation of my political philosophy than anything else.

    I knew we were headed for the world portrayed in 'AS' when success was punished. WalMart, Microsoft, all the giant bugbears that had succeeded were being assailed by the same crew of incompetent mediocrities that believe governments can create work, wealth and quality-of-life advancing technology.

    For the liberals among us: it can't. FREE MEN CAN, but only to the extent that they're FREE.

    And now, we begin a NEW age, a throwback to an OLD age, when we were beginning to learn that altruism leads to some of the grossest bestiality in the name of 'humanity' that has ever been seen. We'll have to learn it all again, I suppose, and before it's over, we're going to see John Galtsjailed and executed in boxcar-lots for the good of ALL of us.

    Liberty is being extinguished faster than the IRS can even count your money, and if you think this post is over-heated and breathless...just wait. You'll see I'm right before this generation leaves the stage.

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    tankie Military Professional tankie's Avatar
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    For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.



    [I]Ain that the truth I]


    Trust gets you killed, love gets you hurt, and being REAL gets you hated.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mobbme View Post
    All in all, is this book worth reading?
    It depends. Have you seen the light already? ) If so, not really. I just skimmed it, the thing's too massive to get through unless the story/ideas really capture you or you're just stubborn.
    I enjoy being wrong too much to change my mind.

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    Senior Contributor Samudra's Avatar
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    If you have not read the Atlas Shrugged : READ IT.

    If you find that hard to read try : The Fountainhead. Much more smaller, enjoyable read.

    But yes, its certainly interesting to see how the novel reflects todays situation.
    Last edited by Samudra; 18 Jan 09, at 23:43.

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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tankie View Post
    For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.



    [I]Ain that the truth I]
    In principle is this significantly different from the actions of devotees to other organizing principles such as religion or 'the market'? Seems to me that the solution they often provide to problems of their own making is found within the ideas that got them there in the first place.


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