The Atlas Shrugged Index

From recession-culture trends we’ve written about on this blog lately, a recession icon of sorts emerges, wrapped in a Snuggie, puffing on a pipe — and now with a copy of Ayn Rand‘s Atlas Shrugged on his lap.

The Economist reports that the book’s sales rank on Amazon is far above what it’s been in previous years (and briefly topped Obama‘s The Audacity of Hope).

Furthermore, says The Economist, data from TitleZ.com show recent sales spikes of the book coinciding with major political events, such as the passing of the stimulus plan.

The spikes, The Economist surmises, happen when people (including a handful of bloggers, politicians, and economists) notice the eerie similarities between real-life events — like the recent spate of sea pirate attacks — and the scenarios Rand described in her book.

As long as the halls of Congress don’t start ringing with the question “Who is John Galt?” let’s hope it’s just a case of life imitating art.


Lori

When everything started falling apart last fall, the first thing I did was change my facebook status message to "Who is John Galt?"
A few people understood the connection!

Scott Supak

Yeah, maybe people are just interested in the connection between Rand and Greenspan--the man probably most responsible for the deregulation that got us into this mess.

Every time I hear Andrea Mitchell ask someone how we got here, I scream at the TV: "Go ask your husband!"

Karl Bielefeldt

I picked up a copy because I kept hearing commentators mention it and I'd never read it, not directly because I was "looking for literature that paralleled current events" or something. I just hate being left out of the loop.

Of course, I also get way too much pleasure than I should from pretending I've been in the loop all along, when I only finished the book yesterday for the first time.

I imagine more than a few people will pick it up out of curiosity after reading this article.

Jerry

I did the same. And many people understood and echoed the same sentiment: Who is John Galt?

Danny

Before Atlas Shrugged (and even afterwards), when people notice eerie similarities between current events and scenarios from a book, people would buy more bibles. Maybe that explains the appeal of Ayn Rand. She created a movement that mimics a religion, down to prophetic visions of a dystopian future.

Wes Hartline

I read the book back in the fall of 2007 on a trip out west to Colorado and Utah with some friends. Backpacking through the Canyonlands in Utah was one of the best decisions I could have made. I have continually recommended the book to friends and family since then, but never more than I have been over the past 4 months.

I wish I could say that changing a facebook status or twitter to "Who is John Galt" brought about a chorus of voices confirming that they loved the book or affirmed what I said. In reality, I mostly got questions about who John Galt was and why I was asking who he was.

Apparently, we need more copies of Atlas Shrugged down here in Nashville.

P

"Maybe that explains the appeal of Ayn Rand. She created a movement that mimics a religion, down to prophetic visions of a dystopian future."

Yeah, because socialism isn't a religion at all, nope, it's all scientific rigor and grounded in the real world of real human beings, with no magical thinking required for it to work.

Ayn Rand took it too far with Objectivism, but she said a lot of things that needed saying, and fifty years later we still don't have enough people saying it, hence the book sales.

JH

Considering where the Alan Greenspan-deregulated free market has taken us, maybe it's fitting that "John Galt" was most recently the name chosen by shady construction executives for a shell corporation, later implicated in shoddy practices resulting in a fatal fire during the demolition of the Deutschbank building.

Tyler

@Danny, Rand also created a movement that mimics a religion down to the followers being closed to any other schools of thought and generally jerks toward everyone who believes something even slightly different

Ben

If you read it, enjoy the 60 page speech.

Peggy O'Kane

A quick check of Maine's Statewide library catalog also shows a large number of copies in current circulation. One wonders if Rand would approve.

GeneralDisarray

I picked it up because I just finished BioShock.

Mike

@Ben, doesn't any given protagonist have a speech like that in her novels? Geez, she's rough to read sometimes.

SSJ

Disappointing post, was hoping it was an actual index of hours worked (or equivalent) by the "Atlas" class.

Caca Fuego

Ross Douthat is pretty close to my view when he describes Atlas Shrugged as "half-baked, Nietzsche-for-capitalists philosophizing" with characters who are thin (albeit useful) caricatures and prose that is "awful in patches," even though he still thinks it's worth your time (http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/03/the_case_for_ayn_rand.php).

Is it really worth your time? My answer: "That depends."

To me, Rand writes little more than bang-you-over-the-head-so-I-can-shove-it-down-your-throat sermons in a thin narrative guise. These things are less stories and more parables or allegories.

If I want a sermon, I'll go to church, and if I want excellence in storytelling -- with a deeper point or without -- I certainly won't turn to Rand. I think it was W. H. Auden who said that a successful poet was someone who loved words (and, I think we could justly add, storytelling), not some one with an axe to grind. Rand is clearly in the latter category.

Read more...

carlivar

JH- the market was never deregulated. Less regulated? A big maybe. Deregulated? Not even close.

The economy is a big machine that no one understands, yet we can't resist changing settings, pushing buttons, and moving levers on the machine. Then when it produces less widgets for a while after one particular lever-pull, everyone wonders why.

Alex

If you've read Atlas Shrugged, appreciate the response given by the movie Dirty Dancing (no, not kidding--watch it and see! Not just a trite girly movie).

This book should be kept away from males age 14-26, or until they're old enough to appreciate life doesn't work that way--then they can read it and appreciate the interesting point of view it takes. Which IS interesting, and has some really good points, but like all things is too much when taken too far. I think we really did top out on the philosophy spectrum with Aristotle's "All things in moderation" idea. Excessive regulation? Bad. Excessive Deregulation? Bad. Excess period? Bad.

blue92

"Yeah, because socialism isn't a religion at all, nope, it's all scientific rigor and grounded in the real world of real human beings, with no magical thinking required for it to work."

This is the same mistake Rand makes -- the false equivalency of socialism to Marxist communism. Western democracies have been socialist states to varying degrees for 60-70 years.

Yes, mistakes have been/are/will be made. No government is perfect as they depend on flawed individuals to implement. The choice is between markets, ideal social goals, and a balanced mixture of the two. It may not be economical or even ultimately productive to pay for Medicare, but letting the old, poor people die is unlikely to fly as anybody's political plank.

Sure, some socialists will claim government is the solution to all problems, just as some capitalists will claim markets as their panacea. Witness the mortgage debacle if one insists markets are also prone to ridiculous assumption. Politics and markets both may involve magical thinking, but in practice neither are the least bit magical. Both are just tools for achieving ends; the question is always of establishing the correct causal relationships and consequences... and justifying both means and ends.

Read more...

NM

Rand-loving types always come up with the same excuse when the market doesn't work out: IT WASN'T FREE ENOUGH!
Here's the thing; unless you have a good explanation otherwise, these systems have a linear response curve. Changing the "regulation" knob a bit towards more or less should result in an output of (irrespectively) slightly more or less efficiency. We've been pushing the knob towards less regulation for 3 decades now, and the result for the last decade has been a marked decrease in efficiency, reliability, stability, etc. So we could keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result, and that would be madness.

awed

Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone." Ayn Rand