Friday, August 6, 2010

Atlas Shrugged - Deja Vu

Why are so many of my friends dusting off old copies of Atlas Shrugged?

Perhaps it is because the modern era is eerily reminiscent of the world Ayn Rand depicted in 1957? 

Wealth and capitalism are evil, the causes of all our problems, specifically the excess of recent years and the broken bubble that resulted.  Certainly none of this can be blamed on the innocent people who borrowed more than they could repay.  Don't blame the real estate agents, appraisers, mortgage brokers, and developers who rode the gravy train while it lasted.  At least some of the banks that played a role went under.  Too few.  But the process continues.

The collective cry is "don't blame me"... another common refrain out of Atlas Shrugged.  Another similarity?  Our government played no role in the disaster.  They were an innocent bystander, reborn as a champion of the people, leveling the playing field to make things fair.   Should we be relieved or fearful of the unintended consequences?

No.  Greed is the enemy.  Profit must be legislated away!  All based on the faulty assumption that there is a static pool of money that needs to be equitably distributed.  (Buffett and Gates didn't help that perception this week.)  And I thought wealth was created and destroyed every day?!   No.  It needs to be spread around by those who claim the purest of motives.

Again, the words of Atlas Shrugged echo. 

"You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization and you wonder why it's crumbling around you, while you're damning its life-blood—-money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout men's history, money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, whose names changed, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves—slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody's mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer. Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers—as industrialists. 
"To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money—and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man's mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being—the self-made man—the American industrialist. 
"If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase 'to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created.
I'm not a wide-eyed disciple of Ayn Rand.  I'll leave that to Alan Greenspan... she must be so proud!  But it's been fun re-reading Atlas Shrugged.  I just keep reminding myself that it's a work of fiction written when Eisenhower was in the White House.

3 comments:

  1. Adam Smith had it all wrong, the hand is not invisible, it is plan to see and it reaches with with brass knuckles from Washington DC.

    Our Federal Government has its hand in everything from student loans (ever wonder why a college education is so expensive?) to mortgages and now to our health.

    America to Uncle Sam- Drop Dead.

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  2. Literally nobody anywhere is saying "Wealth and capitalism are evil, the causes of all our problems, specifically the excess of recent years and the broken bubble that resulted."

    What a huge straw man. Do you actually see the world like this?

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  3. The earliest battle known to man,

    intellectuals vs practitioners

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