Sunday, March 08, 2015

Who loves "Atlas Shrugged"?

Atlas Shrugged is such obvious crap - both as literature and as a political manifesto - that it staggers the imagination to think that there are people out there who think it's great and on both counts. Here are some examples from The Snark Who Hunts Back: Favorite Passages from Atlas Shrugged. "The Snark" writes:
While reading any truly great book there will be scenes that send shivers down your spine, make you cry, make you laugh out loud on the train, make you re-read the passage over and over a dozen times, or make you read the words out loud while sitting on a bench in the park outside your bank.
Usually a single book will get, at most, two of those reactions out me.
Atlas Shrugged has gotten all of them out of me…more than once.

He then lists these three below. Amazing.

Francisco D’Anconia “Money Speech” – Atlas Shrugged – Part II:

In the latest draft of my DARK MARKET I inserted references to this speech. Krugman likes to mock those politicians like Paul Ryan who get their views on economics policies from that D'Anconia speech. And as Krugman points out, D'Anconia isn't merely praising the gold standard, he wants to go back to using gold coins:
This had me wondering: when was the last time the economy actually ran on specie, rather than notes?
Bear in mind that paper money has been in widespread use for a long, long time. Originally these were often notes from private banks, like the $10 (“dix”) note from the Citizen’s Bank of Louisiana that may have given rise to the term “Dixie” for the south. There’s an extensive, mostly positive discussion of bank notes in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. But when did the notes become dominant over coin? 
Well, the Millennial Edition of Historical Statistics of the United States (subscription required) has some data. As I read it, as of 1813 there was only $7 million worth of coins in the hands of the U.S. public, versus $52 million in bank notes. So even two centuries ago, we were already a paper-money economy. 
And this means that Ryan wants to turn the clock back two centuries, not one.
Hank Rearden's Trial - Atlas Shrugged - Part II

Reading this reminds you how little Ayn Rand bothered to learn about the US judicial system - or how little she cared that her representation of a judicial system was utterly absurd and divorced from reality . In her American dystopia all Hank Rearden has to do is give a really swell speech and he was let go. His crime was selling metal to someone he wasn't supposed to if memory serves - one of those insane rulings that Rand's US democracy decrees whenever one of Rand's heroes needs a challenge. Rand never reveals the details of how these rulings become law - they just suddenly appear throughout the book. 

The Story of The Twentieth Century Motor Company – Atlas Shrugged – Part II

This is one of my favorite parts of the book because it reveals what Ayn Rand thought was the true cause of Communism - sadism. Literally, sadism.
She had pale eyes that looked fishy, cold and dead. And if you ever want to see pure evil, you should have seen the way her eyes glinted when she watched some man who’d talked back to her once and who’d just heard his name on the list of those getting nothing above basic pittance. And when you saw it, you saw the real motive of any person who’s ever preached the slogan: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.’
And no Rand chapter would be complete without someone being assaulted - in this chapter it's a little girl - but she's ugly, so it's OK, in Rand's world-view:
“Then there was an old guy, a widower with no family, who had one hobby: phonograph records. I guess that was all he ever got out of life. In the old days, he used to skip lunch just to buy himself some new recording of classical music. Well, they didn’t give him any ‘allowance’ for records – ‘personal luxury’ they called it. But at the same meeting, Millie Bush, somebody’s daughter, a mean, ugly little eight year old, was voted a pair of gold braces for her buck teeth – this was ‘medical need’ because the staff psychologist had said that the poor girl would get an inferiority complex if her teeth weren’t straightened out. The old guy who loved music, turned to drink, instead. He got so you never saw him fully conscious any more. But it seems like there was one thing he couldn’t forget. One night, he came staggering down the street, saw Millie Bush, swung his fist and knocked all her teeth out. Every one of them.
Since Rand didn't allow her book to be edited by Random House, nobody questioned what an eight-year-old girl was doing out by herself after closing time at the bar. And of course right-wing worshippers of what they think is a well-reasoned tale of the superiority of Capitalism never think twice about such details.

It's bad enough that there are people with no taste in literature nor ability to comprehend the utter failure of Atlas Shrugged as a political work, but you have writers for the Wall Street Journal who consider it a prophetic book - and Rand herself believed it too - I put that in my play.
Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years
Some years ago when I worked at the libertarian Cato Institute, we used to label any new hire who had not yet read "Atlas Shrugged" a "virgin." Being conversant in Ayn Rand's classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement. 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.Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that 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, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.
Please note - this is not some random blogger saying this. It's Stephen Moore, senior economic writer for the Wall Street Journal, an allegedly mainstream media outlet that pays its writers. It goes on:
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. 
David Kelley, the president of the Atlas Society, which is dedicated to promoting Rand's ideas, explains that "the older the book gets, the more timely its message." He tells me that there are plans to make "Atlas Shrugged" into a major motion picture -- it is the only classic novel of recent decades that was never made into a movie. "We don't need to make a movie out of the book," Mr. Kelley jokes. "We are living it right now."
They did make a lousy 3-part movie out of the book. There's never any accounting for libertarian taste, ever.

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