jeff tweedy from the wilco documentary “i am trying to break your heart”
Since the government sponsored bail-out of a few public companies, most notably in the banking and automotive industries, a lot of people have been comparing our modern situation with Ayn Rand’s classic novel Atlas Shrugged. If you aren’t familiar with the book, it is centered around a core group of characters who are all brilliant industrialists – Dagny Taggert runs a transcontinental railroad, Hank Rearden owns a steel company, Francisco d’Anconia presides over many copper and other metal mines and finally John Galt, well, who is John Galt. Anyways, the whole premise of the book involves the depth of Capitalism in America, or lack thereof. Rand, in contention to the term “free market”, makes convincing arguments that although business is essentially free to make fluid decisions within some markets, the greedy and parasitic politicians within the government bleed the genius mind to death through taxes and policies. For example, when Rearden invents a new form of lighter, stronger steel that revolutionizes the world, politicians tax and blackmail him into releasing the patent so that their inept friends who themselves own steel forges will not be driven from the market. The obvious message in this book is that capitalism must be pure, not adultered with politics or taxation. Also Rand seems to really slam on communism, although she rarely says so explicitly. As the novel progresses, the (always, unfailingly) despicable and unqualified politicians manipulate, cheat, steal and basically bastardize their government posts in order to screw over the smart industrialists, basically because the politicians know they are not creative or hard-working enough to succeed through pure capitalism, so they instead use government power to leach from those who are actually successful.
Recently The Economist reported about the spike and boom cycle associated with this novel, as sales seem to increase dramatically during recession cycles (especially after government sponsored bail-outs, which seem straight out of the book). Here is a link to an article explaining the sales cycles from Amazon.com for this book. The Atlas Shrugged Index.
Although I think Ayn Rand’s book was a little over the top with the stupidity and greed of some of the characters, she seems to have done something right in describing human nature. I think its interesting how Republicans and Democrats both argue over which group this book “endorses”. Republicans who usually clamor for small government and less taxation claim that their policies would avoid the manipulation of the industry and bail-out situations. On the other hand, Democrats normally prefer more regulation of economic systems, and thus claim that heightened government presence would avoid illegal dealing in the free market such as the corruption in Atlas Shrugged and the collapse of the housing market/money market through credit default swaps.
One of the most interesting creations of Rand’s book is the framework of Objectivism that Rand constructs. In short, Objectivism is the application of Economic self-interest to social philosophy. Just as it doesn’t make economic sense to give away money for free, Objectivism attempts to squash most charitable hand-outs, believing that social charity ruins the desire to produce for yourself. She also stresses how everyone sees a particular situation differently. But like an abstract painting, attempting to create a world from everyones different perspective can leave the situation skewed, distorted and ugly. While I think that it is true that charity and hand-outs can breed reliance, I think this world would be a pretty sad place if someone in a tough place couldn’t ask someone for help.
I think its pretty silly to argue about who is to blame for the current recession since no party made any attempt to stop it (and really, no attempt to stop it. mentioning that credit default swaps are a bad idea once in congress is nothing more than a half-assed attempt. if you really knew this was coming you should have done something about it, or you are more to blame for letting this happen since you knew about it). But if any group has built the foundation of their party on a moderate to good set of literary works by a sex-crazed 1950’s writer, its the Libertarians under the guidance of Ron Paul (who named one of his children Rand). Basically everything in the Libertarian agenda was gleaned from the pages of Atlas Shrugged, the Fountainhead etc. Not to bust on Libertarians because I think the movement has some good ideas, but Ron Paul has been associated with some pretty heavily derogatory stuff (while he has denied writing any of the derogatory articles, most ran under newsletters with his name attached ie “the ron paul newsletter” so its hard to absolve him of the blame for running this crap) and im not really one for hate or secession.
anyways, after a short rant about politics and philosophy, i think its pretty interesting how a work of fiction written 50 years ago could produce so many opinions and important changes in politics, even to this day.