Atlas Shrugged coming to a theater near you. Not a minute too soon.

More than fifty years after Ayn Rand argued that government could tear an economy apart by trying to “do good,” her hallmark novel Atlas Shrugged is coming to at theater near you.

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:

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:

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.

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?”

“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!”

Comments Moore:

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.

Advertisements

11 responses to “Atlas Shrugged coming to a theater near you. Not a minute too soon.

  1. I must respectfully disagree. Atlas Shrugged is little more than 1000 pages filled with bad economic ideas and misunderstood Continental Philosophy. Oddly enough, it’s a well crafted novel; but there’s not much more to it. By the way, if economic policies such as Rand espouses work so well, why doesn’t everyone use them already? Some would argue the most successful economy in the world right now is China’s – and what they have is a pretty significant mixture of overall central planning with some localized capitalistic development.

    In all honesty, how would we go about abolishing all income taxes? How would that work exactly? The “brilliant” answer given is to fire all government workers, but come on. All government workers? We should dismiss the entire military then? Every police officer? It’s fantasy on the level of Lord of the Rings.

    • As a novel, it’s average. Maybe less than average. The story…average. The long, over wrought, monologues…well, that’s what they are: monologues. In the real world, the only people who get away with lectures are professors and congressmen talking to an empty floor while C-span provides coverage.

      As for why they ideas haven’t been implemented: they were. Before the 1930s, government didn’t try to tell the economy what to do. Only since then have we seen the “do gooderism” that wrecks economies and destroys economic growth. It’s in spite of many of those programs that the economy has managed to do well.

      China? Really? Have you actually read anything about that country? They may be producing most of the western world’s products, but last I checked, they still had a billion people under the poverty level, a billion people who could not exercise free speech, and a billion people who cannot elect their own government (unless that government is communist…then they can).

      Further, you and I both know that individual incentives are powerful motivators. When someone offers you a handout, who will turn it down? Like ‘bread and circuses’ of ancient Rome, it’s a lot easier for a congressman or legislator to pass a law that say “We’ll feed/house/care for you, just vote for us!” than it is to tell people that the best thing for government to do is let bad (or over leveraged) businesses (like GM) fail. Result? Millions of people feed from the trough, show up to vote in the bums, and forget to ask: who is paying for it? It’s not unlike ancient Rome’s ‘bread and circuses’ and the accompanying corruption. We feed you, you support us, the philosophy says. Never mind that we’re feeding you with your own money…

      Speaking of our own money….abolishing income taxes would not be difficult, however, I’m surprised, and delighted, to hear you ask. There are several ideas well fleshed out and designed and would not be difficult to implement, and I’m glad to point them out for you to do more reading.. Suggestions include both a so-called “fair tax” and a “flat tax.” The fair tax removes all income and corporate taxes and replaces them with a consumption tax on new goods, only, with cost of living reconciling to equalize the costs between the poor and the wealthy. In other words, there’s no reason you should pay taxes on food, etc. (Learn more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FairTax and here: http://www.amazon.com/FairTax-Book-Neal-Boortz/dp/0060875410).

      As for the flat tax, the tax imposes a single rate on all payers, with no exemptions. It is often criticized, however, as being unequal, because, as implied above, the poor spend a larger percentage of their income on food and housing than do the wealthy. Learn more about it here: http://www.hoover.org/publications/books/8329 and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_tax. It has the advantage of being more fair.

      Both have the advantage of equalizing the benefits and costs of American government on all levels of society, preventing the creation, and perpetuation, of welfare dependent elements of our society. It also pays for the military, the police (which aren’t funded by federal income taxes, anyway), and hobbits…if the federal government supplies lembas to Hollywood (no less fanciful a proposition than that the ACA will lower the deficit).

      Both ideas have the advantage of removing the potential for loopholes, carveouts, windfalls, and exemptions. Everyone pays their fair share.

  2. In fairness, I said “some would argue” that China was a successful economy, not that I would argue it. That may seem like a cop-out, but I really only meant it to illustrate that there really aren’t any universally accepted standards for what a successful economy is. I’ll address the rest of your points later. I’m on the move at the moment. Thanks for the response to my comment though, I appreciate a little lively debate now and again!

  3. Who is John Galt? He is a fictional character that does not live in reality. And if you think government is never beneficial in creating an environment for businesses to be successful and thus hire then try starting a business in Somalia.

  4. I finally read Atlas Shrugged last year after intending to read it for years. I was excited to begin, but my enthusiasm quickly faded. As a novel, it was unremarkable and, at best, averagely-crafted. I found it an absolute chore to work through. It felt like nearly 1,000 pages of continual browbeating with one message: Money & selfishness good, altruism unrealistic and bad.

    Atlas Shrugged stands as a monument to the poor construction and thorough demolishment of the proverbial straw man. Rand paints a picture of a world so distorted and sanitized as to be virtually unrecognizable. Families are an afterthought, and, when they make an appearance, it is only as a hindrance. There is no mention of recreation of almost any kind. And there’s a curious fascination with (and even glorification of) what seems to be non-consensual sex. It was occasionally a little disconcerting but most often just left me alternating between confusion and bemusement as I worked my way through the book.

    In Atlas Shrugged, there are, in the entire world, around 20 productive individuals struggling against the undermining efforts of billions of “looters”: sad-faced individuals who contribute nothing and try to take everything from those few who generate productive output. I don’t recognize the people portrayed in either of these groups. In the world I know, the vast majority of people — even those receiving some form of “looted” assistance — are contributors in meaningful ways, and not even John Galt succeeds totally (or, perhaps, even primarily) on nothing more than his own ability. For me, the message of Atlas Shrugged is that “every man prosper[s] according to his genius, and . . . conquer[s] according to his strength” and that it’s immoral (and, indeed, a pretense for “looting”) to suggest otherwise.

    I realize, of course, that Atlas Shrugged is an attempt to convey a message on political economy, not an attempt to accurately describe a world or to advocate for the exact world existing in the book (I believe, though I may be wrong, that Rand herself was married to a struggling artist; hardly a Hank Reardon-type). As a friend once suggested to me, Atlas Shrugged is probably more about “running from” than “running to” something.

    Furthermore, all readers should realize that Rand herself fled the Soviet Union for America after the Communist Revolution, and, in my opinion, much of what she has written should be viewed primarily as a critique of a system everyone now rightly rejects — the dictatorial, centrally-planned economy. No one wants to end up like Soviet Russia. But Rand’s suggestion (well, maybe it’s something a little stronger than a suggestion) that all social welfare legislation leads us inevitably down the looter’s (read, “Soviet”) path is, well, the type of strident ideological view of the world that tends to frustrate me.

    The price of a political novelist using such severe distortions of reality to make a point is that the point just really can’t be taken all that seriously. I don’t think most people take Ayn Rand seriously, and, in my opinion, it’s good that they don’t. For those that are inclined to, I would suggest that they “check her premises” before giving anything in the book too much credence. :)

    I am anxious to see, though, how the movie is received by a mass audience. If there was ever a time when the message of Atlas Shrugged might resonate in America since the end of the Cold War, it’s in this era of bailouts and questionable government stimulus. I will probably end up seeing the movie hoping that this will be a case where the movie manages to improve on the book.

  5. Pingback: Atlas Shrugged: Come see it. | What they didn't teach in law school

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s