I put it off for a long time. After listening to so many libertarians wax on about the insight and genius of Ayn Rand – I just had to read Atlas Shrugged. Am I the last person in the United States to finish this horrible tome?
If you haven't read it – maybe I can save you some time.
The book is best described as an economic allegory written by a teenager. It juxtaposes moronic, mendacious government bureaucrats with all knowing private sector wunderkinds, without whom the world will come undone. The bureaucrats work for the Bureau of Economic Planning and their goal is to impose economic justice by nationalizing companies (steel and railroads). Shareholders get nothing.
Maybe I'm being too demanding but I prefer metaphors that have a hint of truth to them. Can you name a company that has been nationalized by the U.S. Government in the last hundred years. I'll bet you can name several that have been saved by the government. Last I checked, government employees were leaving to make outrageous sums on Wall Street or in Private Security (in fabulously short time periods) to make up for their paltry incomes and crazy work hours in the public sector… so who is working harder for the people?
Which sector is more mendacious:
- The enfeebled SEC or Bernie Madoff and Goldman Sachs?
- The utility regulators or Enron?
- The NY Fed or Lehman Brothers and AIG?
To assert that the private sector is the epitome of knowledge and efficiency is to never have worked at a bank or insurance company and to never have called up a private water utility company with a grievance. Have Randians missed the fact that the government has become hopelessly infected by corporate lobbyists? The Gov't now works entirely for the private sector not against it. The saddest thing is that I can't think of an earlier period when it was ever the reverse (Was the Sherman anti-trust act anti-business or pro competition?).
How can a book that is so totally disconnected from history resonate? Paul Ryan and Ron Paul seem to have fallen in love with a book full of pure straw men. Wouldn't they [and we] be better served to read Den of Thieves, Conspiracy of Fools, The History of the Standard Oil Company, and The Devil's Casino. Yes, to balance those we should understand what happened at Fanniae Mae. I am definitely not arguing that Gov't is good and the profit motive is evil but one would have to say that in the last five or six years we have been sorely lacking in private sector role models.
Perhaps Ayn just wanted a way to express her thesis that greed and selfishness are always good. The book's complete disconnection from reality defeats this effort entirely. Do libertarians really need 1000 pages of pure fiction to justify the natural meme of selfishness?
Hitchens called it nothing more than super-arrogation and a transcendently awful novel:
What am I left to think of politicians who champion such dreck?