Some think it’s not a minute too soon.
“Being conversant in Ayn Rand’s classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement,” writes Stephen Moore in the Wall Street Journal about working in public policy at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation. “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.”
Written with fewer pages than the Affordable Healthcare for America Act, the novel is more readable and perhaps more prescient. And, because the book has finally, fifty years after publication in 1957, been produced in cinematic format (i.e. a movie), politicians may not have any excuse not to catch the main points.
Points such as:
- Government doesn’t really create or save jobs.
The stimulus programs of the last couple years were created on the premise the government spending will produce economic growth. Where does that money come from? Two places: the government can print it or the government can borrow it. The first risks inflation and the second has to be paid eventually, ostensibly by tax dollars. Tax dollars are dollars taken out of the economy.
Enter Frederic Bastiat and “That which is seen, and that which is not seen.” Sure it’s great if the government puts money into the economy, but it is not without effect. It is spent, which creates products, services, and boosts the economy. That is what is seen. On the other (invisible) hand, what is unseen is that the money isn’t used by those who produced it. It has to come from somewhere else-a taxpayer, who will not be able to spend the money. It is taken from them, by force, and redistributed to whomever the government decides needs it more than the original producer. Further, by taking the money from the taxpayer, we decrease his incentive to produce, and spend, more.
If economics has taught us nothing, it has shown that the market is better at picking winners than the government. Putting government bureaucrats and pandering politicians in charge of picking winners just does not work. (See also: Adam Smith) (Unless you own G.E. stock…)
Which leads to the next point:
- Congressmen don’t know much about economics (Republican or Democratic).
The counterintuitive part, at least for you guys who graduated near the top of your classes at very prestigious law schools and made a lot of money in litigation or bond-counsel work or whatever but have not spent a lot of time selling hotdogs or landscaping or painting houses, is this: Profits are evidence of the creation of social value, not deductions from the sum of the common good. Washington totally flubbed that one during the health-care debate. Enormous profits come from the creation of enormous social value. Exxon, for instance. Americans may not have cozy feelings toward Big Oil, but given a choice between free gas for a year from the local Exxon station or lunch with a bigfoot politician, most Americans would just pick up a Slim Jim on their way to fill up on gratis high-test and motor on down the road and take a rain check on the coq au vin with Senator Snout.
Thanks, Mr. Williamson. Some more points:
- Put lipstick on a pig, (or a law), and it’s still a pig. Call it Affordable Care, but it’s just semantics–a bad law is still a bad law.
- A politicians’ gut reaction to a crisis is to “do something,” and that something is not necessarily wise. Usually, though, it does create another government agency.
For the uninitiated, the moral of the [Atlas Shrugged] 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.
And that’s just to start.
In one of my favorite parts, quoted by Moore in his WSJ review, John Galt, as government bureaucrats plead for his help to save the economy, calls for the abolition of the income tax:
Galt: “You want me to be Economic Dictator?”
Mr. Thompson: “Yes!”
“And you’ll obey any order I give?”
“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.”
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.
The book, and the movie, too, if reports are to be trusted, bear an uncanny resemblance to our times. It was written, after all, to take place in “the day after tomorrow.”
About the Movie
Synopsis of the film from the film’s site:
Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) runs Taggart Transcontinental, the largest remaining railroad company in America, with intelligence, courage and integrity, despite the systematic disappearance of her best and most competent workers.
She is drawn to industrialist Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler), one of the few men whose genius and commitment to his own ideas match her own. Rearden’s super-strength metal alloy, Rearden Metal, holds the promise that innovation can overcome the slide into anarchy.
Using the untested Rearden Metal, they rebuild the critical Taggart rail line in Colorado and pave the way for oil titan Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel) to feed the flame of a new American Renaissance.
Hope rises again, when Dagny and Rearden discover the design of a revolutionary motor based on static electricity – in an abandoned engine factory – more proof to the sinister theory that the “men of the mind” (thinkers, industrialists, scientists, artists, and other innovators) are “on strike” and vanishing from society.
From the Foundry:
The film covers Part I of the three-part novel, condensed into just 102 minutes. (Parts II and III are to follow in sequels, the producers say.) The scenes that are included give a good sense of the book’s beginning, though it is too short to allow much development of the characters and their relationships. The foundational plot mystery of successful businesspeople going missing one after another is cleverly established, and the strong performance of Grant Bowler as Rearden supplies backbone.
Fans of the book will find some enjoyable, if brief, nods to rich portions of the book that were left out, including the back story of main characters Dagny Taggart and Francisco d’Anconia. Keep an eye out for that famous cigarette with the dollar sign on it.
According to Ron Rodgers of Rocky Mountain Pictures, the film will come to Utah at the end of April or the beginning of May at Megaplex and/or Cinemark Theaters.
- Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged Debuts Tax Day (eagleviews.org)
- Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged Part 1 – The 40-Year Wait is Over (blogcritics.org)
- G.E. and U.S.A. are Rent-Seeking BFFs (joshblackman.com)
- Atlas Shrugged: “spectacularly good” or “incomprehensible gibberish”? (reason.com)
- Previewing the Atlas Shrugged Movie (atlassociety.org)
- Reason.tv: Adapting the Epic – The Making of Atlas Shrugged the Movie (reason.com)