Why is a 52 year old novel #48 at Amazon.com?
Because it is an all too accurate depiction of life in America in early 2009.
Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged in 1957, when England retained the socialist policies of Clement Attlee and the Beveridge Report, and western intellectuals believed centralized economic control would create Heaven on earth. Rand was not the only person who saw the logical conclusion of collectivism — Fabian George Orwell had written the dystopic 1984, and Fredrich Hayek already had published both The Road To Serfdom and The Fatal Conceit. But where Orwell was ambivalent about authoritarianism and Hayek expressed his ideas through non-fiction, Rand created memorable, larger-than-life characters in a novel that uncompromisingly expressed her belief in liberty.
The heroes are Nietzschean: inventor and steel magnate Hank Reardon, railroad executive Dagny Taggart, the pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld, faux playboy Francisco d’Anconia, and the eternal Libertarian hero who “stopped the engine of the world,” John Galt. They fight a plethora of villains that include moochers, looters, and evil government stooges.
The story shows Rand’s belief that only self-reliant people willing to use their brains are capable of creating anything worthwhile. In Atlas Shrugged, it is government legislation nominally promoting egalitarianism, social welfare, and fairness — but really increasing state power — that leads to utter destruction. All the new laws do the same thing: they punish producers and reward the “moochers and looters.”
Fast forward to October, 2008. A lame duck Republican President spearheads an $800 Billion bailout bill that rewards the private institutions that were the financial industry’s most incompetent; six months later the Government won’t let banks repay their TARP loans early because the other purpose of the bailout was to bring the financial sector under state control.
By the end of the year the government is partial owner of 204 banks and many insurance companies “too big to fail.” We taxpayers have become partial owners of another 249 banks so far in 2009.
Late in 2008, while Libertarians urged that General Motors and Chrysler be allowed to go into bankruptcy for reorganization, Congress handed them a $17 Billion “loan.” This week General Motors declared bankruptcy anyway, meaning its $13.4 Billion share of the loan was an utter waste — as Libertarians had predicted. The common shareholders and bondholders who risked their own money are shut out of the settlement, but the United Auto Workers that arguably pushed the American auto industry to this pass by its unrealistic and unrelenting demands for wage, health, and retirement benefits will be rewarded by being made the company’s co-owner. The US Government, as the other co-owner, already is dictating what cars GM can and cannot make.
Based on the “loan” given to the AIG insurance company, Congress passed a confiscatory tax on bonuses for company executives — even though the loan legislation specifically allowed those bonuses. The executives who mismanaged AIG were long gone and the ones expecting bonuses were the new crop supposedly repairing the damage. No matter; they are businessmen and our government, like Head Of State Mr. Thompson in Atlas Shrugged, believes all businessmen are evil.
In February President Obama announced “The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan” to bail out residential mortgage holders who bought more house than they could afford. The mortgage companies and the taxpayers will eat the cost. A mere sop was offered to the millions of Americans who had been scrimping to make their mortgage payments.
Earlier this month Congress proposed a law that would allow bankruptcy judges to alter existing mortgages by adjusting the total due and the interest rate. The stated purpose was to help hard-pressed mortgage holders stay in their homes, but the effect would be to punish the mortgage companies and turn the citizens into looters. The bill was defeated, but it likely will be back.
The ominous parallels between Atlas Shrugged and American life in 2009 are the reason Ayn Rand’s novel is #48 on the Amazon sales list. Three freedom commentators echo this parallel.
Yaron Brook of the Rand Institute wrote in the Wall Street Journal “In Atlas Shrugged, Rand tells the story of the U.S. economy crumbling under the weight of crushing government interventions and regulations. Meanwhile, blaming greed and the free market, Washington responds with more controls that only deepen the crisis. Sound familiar?”
Stephen Moore of Americans For Prosperity wrote in the same venue “…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…”
Moore had a conversation with David Kelley. Kelly is the leader of the Atlas Society, named after “Atlas Shrugged” and dedicated to promoting Rand’s ideas. The two of them talked about Hollywood plans to turn the novel into a major motion picture. “We don’t need to make a movie out of the book,” Kelley said. “We are living it right now.”
The Libertarian Party of Georgia platform states “We wholeheartedly believe that free markets are the engine of individual liberty. Government intervention in the economy imperils both that freedom and the material prosperity of all. We therefore support the following specific immediate reforms: drastic reduction of both taxes and state spending; an end to deficit budgets; the removal of all governmental impediments to free trade; and the repeal of all controls on wages, prices, rents, profits, and production.” We are dismayed that the current administration is doing the exact opposite!
Now more than ever it is vital to support the Libertarian message of limited government and individual responsibility. Talk up freedom to everyone you deal with!