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.


L.J. Hugel

Responding this article and the comments above:

These "eerie similarities between real-life events...and the scenarios Rand described in her book" are not a case of "life imitating art," rather, it's a case of a brilliant philosophical mind seeing the trajectory of where statist policies will lead.

Ayn Rand, saw the Russian Revolution unfold, literally outside her window; she studied history and philosophy in college, so that she might learn about human development and morality; and she understood the nature of the tremendous burst of productivity, success, and happiness that grew out of the political and economic freedom in 19th century America. _Atlas Shrugged_ is not *primarily* concerned with economics, but with morality; however, the novel certainly shows in no uncertain terms what the altruistic-collectivist morality will lead to for the economy.

Brief notes: Alan Greenspan is not an Objectivist; his policies at the Fed had nothing to do with Ayn Rand's view on economics; a state-run economy is antithetical to Objectivism.

Objectivism is the antithesis of religion. Religion calls for blind faith; Objectivism upholds that reason is man's only means of knowledge, and that one must accept nothing on faith, but must think for oneself and ground one's ideas in sensory evidence .

The objections to Ayn Rand's literary style are ridiculous. What is their real objection? That she presents moral men and women, who deal with moral issues. Only someone seeped in today's anti-value literary culture could object to that. It's impossible to divorce morality from art, and it's the writers who attempt to do so who create cardboard characters-not Ayn Rand.

If you haven't yet read this book, you really owe it to yourself to do so. Whatever your age....if you haven't yet given up on life, if you haven't yet concluded, "life doesn't work that way," then read this book. Decide for yourself. Ayn Rand was concerned with presenting the ideal, with life "as it could be and ought to be." If you still have any spark of belief in the possibility of a human ideal, read this book.

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Faye

I'm sure some people are reading the book now just because of the references made in the media, but I hope that they recognize the value of her ideas. Rand created a philosophy based on reason and reality, not something that mimics religion. Sure, there are childish followers that have not sufficiently studied Objectivism (or any philosophy, for that matter) and come off as dogmatists. I also find that there are many people critical of Objectivism that don't fully grasp it's ideas or choose to slight it by pointing out the weaker followers.

As for equating communism and socialism, Rand was against all forms of collectivism. She never said they were the same thing, but recognized that they are both variants of a flawed world view.

Philip

Word of caution about Atlas Shrugged....
This book is gaining popularity (again), and my son read it and became a "Galt Head", so I needed to know. I recently read it and really enjoyed the book. It is a long story, very well written and makes some very good points supporting capitalism, property rights, and free market. However, it is a very deceptive fiction novel because it encourages the reader to make assumptions, "glosses over" weaknesses and deceptive logic in it's argument, and shows NO negative aspects of unfettered capitalism. These flaws are very hard to catch unless you're already well versed on the subject and you are a discerning reader because it is so well written. The "holes" in support of it's argument hit me like a ton of bricks several times but are glossed over nicely and I wished I could argue them with the author. I do argue them with my son but he is now "tainted". You can easily get sucked in by this book the way that people get sucked into Rush's rantings by combining universal truths with half-truths and deceptive logic.
I am not a socialist OR a capitalist, But I am a socialist AND a capitalist. The world is not that simple. You have to be wise enough to know which tool to pull out of the box to fix what problem and how problems relate to each other as they are always changing. Modern society is so interconnected now that people need to understand that everything one group does effects the lives and rights of another group. The universe runs on equilibrium!
I recommend "Atlas" only if you read other books on both sides of the debate. One I recommend highly is a non-fiction book by Naomi Klein called "The Shock Doctrine".... especially if you are a little older because you will recognize the events of the recent past as they unfold. Many believe this is the most important book of our time. It (The Shock Doctrine) is not as easy to read as Atlas, but is more related to reality and will open your eyes to what is happening around us today. The 2nd and 3rd parts of the book are absolutely enlightening.

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Matthew

@19: While is true the market has been less regulated around the fringes, the reality is that the biggest piece, the GSE's, were regulated into forced failure through political meddling by minority advocates in Congress. Absent any regulation, investors would have demanded more transparency into the assets backing CDO's and MBS's. Instead, the ratings agencies of S&P and Moody's combined with the implicit government backing of Fannie & Freddie stood in as a proxy for our fear instinct.

What we had here was an unregulated derivatives market that relied on upon the ultimate in government meddling, private risks with government guarantees.

Someday I hope that people understand that the government finger in economic affairs always produces negative distortions though I imagine we'll be well into the downward inflection on The One's socialist vision J-curve before people start to wake up.

One day the producers WILL go on strike and the reckoning will be brutal.

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GaiaM

Reading Atlas Shrugged because you've been hearing about it in the news is certainly understandable and I personally hope that trend continues! However, just reading the book won't make you truly understand Ayn Rand's philosophy or its implications and connections with what is happening today.

I encourage everyone to read AS, read a bit about her philosophy in a non-fiction context (there are a lot of good resources at www.aynrand.org, including a summary of her), and then try to apply it to your life. Think about examples that you see around you, big and small, and how they might play out in a system based on reason, self-interest and free markets. Think about what is happening now and it's true causes and how things would be different under different scenarios.

Ayn Rand's philosophy is not a religion - you can't just read the book and follow it and have a happy life. You have to understand the ramifications, internalize it, apply it and live it. So before you judge, start with understanding. I think you'll come to understand that living in a reasonable society where people work for their own self-interest is the best possible scenario for everyone.

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Jorge Vazquez

I for one look forward to a good shrugg. Sure, there will be an economic collapse, but the collapse will be the result of over 100 years of government intervention with the free flow of capital. The progressive movement and it's fascist policies (the income tax, federal reserve, prohibition, and the myriad of alphabet soup agencies and regulations) have created a false economy by directing capital to sectors of the economy that do not require the capital to satisfy demand. The unintended consequence here is that the confescated wealth would have naturally found it's way into sectors of the economy where the additional capital could have been better invested to satisfy demand. When Atlas Shruggs we will have the economic and MORAL correction we so desperately need.

Ben

#21/25:

Religion is certainly an applicable term to Rand & Objectivism. It fits the sociological aspects of a religion. The modern atheism movement (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc) fit this as well, though they'd be incensed to be called a religion, an irony I find quite amusing.

We should move on from religion being defined as a derogatory word and recognize that everyone has beliefs and ideas about how the world should work and moral and ethical values based on those beliefs and ideas. Often, those values and beliefs get fleshed out with structure through a collection of literature and many people find themselves in agreement with them.

Sylvia Bokor

The reader is invited to learn more about Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. The Ayn Rand Institute web site
www.aynrand.org

and/or the work being done by The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights---which presently has some interesting articles on the financial crisis:
http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=arc_financial_crisis

Shy of that, start at the basics. One way to show how Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, can be applied to the current deeply corrupt political situation, is to recognize that man has a right to exist for his own sake. This is central to Miss Rand's system of ethics. Its political expression is the protection of individual rights.

One of the leading questions of ethics is: who should be the beneficiary of a man's actions? Should a man live for himself, keeping the result of his earnings or should he live for others? If he lives for himself, he is free to use what he earns on himself and for whatever other purposes he chooses. He can pursue his own career or grow his business or extend his jobs. He can make himself healthy and well fed and properly exercised. But whatever he chooses he may not violate other people's rights. If he does, he forfeits his own. As long as men are free to live for themselves they will prosper, they will be able to save and send their kids to school and engage in charity or not as they see fit. Objectivism holds that this is moral. It is called rational selfishness.

Or should a man live for others? If he does, then whatever he earns has to be placed on another person's table. Whatever he creates must be given to someone else. In such a situation, the earner is prevented from saving, from doing what he wants with his own property, from spending what he wants when he wants on his own purposes. His rights are violated. But the violators are not punished. And if the situation continues his rights will be increasingly violated, more and more of his earnings will go to feed others, not himself or his loved ones. Objectivism holds that this is immoral. It is called altruism. Collectivism is its political expression. Socialism is an instance of collectivism.

This is the situation we have today. Our rights are increasingly violated. We have some freedom, but we also have many controls, regulations, restrictions and intrusions hampering our lives. It is called a "mixed economy": some freedom and some controls. It is a recipe for disaster. In the days of Franklin Roosevelt we tasted the "appetizer." Today we are poised to be fed the entrée, a socialist program that demands men live for others. The only beneficiary of this ethical system is the corrupt.

Objectivism holds that a man should be the beneficiary of his own actions, that he should keep the result of his efforts and that he alone should decide what to do with that result. If he wants to buy something for himself, okay. If he wants to buy something for someone else, that's his choice. But no on else has the right to tell him what to do with his earnings.

This idea can be applied directly to taxation. Whatever one may think about taxes today, one thing is clear, they are too high and too many and they've been around for too long. Most Americans know it. The way out of some part of the current government-created financial mess is to CUT taxes across the board at every level. Leave more money in the hands of those who've earned it.

There's much more to say. This is only the beginning. Once understood and enacted, it will be a beginning to a better future.

Sincerely,
Sylvia Bokor

http://sylviabokorcomments.blogspot.com/
The Bumpy Road Toward Individualism.
Lest We Return

https://sites.google.com/site/branchessite
Art and Integration.

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RWN

It's "interesting" how many people suggest that deregulation is responsible for part or all of the current economic mess.

Most would not even be able to actually say *what* was deregulated - they take it on faith that it must be true. Some are able to identify the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 as an example of it, but even there it turns out it is only a very specific section that was repealed in 1999 - provisions prohibiting banks from owning other financial-related corporations. The FDIC and its powers, created by that act, are still otherwise in full effect - but are conveniently omitted in every attempt to blame the free market..

So this plus possibly a very few other specific examples might be found. Meanwhile the approximately 51,000 NEW regulations and laws passed during that time on the financial and many other sectors of the economy are simply ignored as though they could not possibly be related and responsible.

Far from there being deregulation, the economy has steadily come under more and more of it without any discernible let up every year for the past century and more. That one can point to a few specific exceptions where something was actually made slightly more free while ignoring the rest is a clear act of evasion

Yet so many persist in the fantasy of there being some laissez-faire capitalist economy out there that is the cause of these problems and needs to be controlled.

Over a century ago, the U.S. economy was at least still mostly capitalist, though it was never 100%. All that exists now are a few remnants that manage to still function despite controls or because they are among the very few areas of the economy to still escape much attention from statist politicians.

"If you bound the arms and legs of gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps, weighed him down with chains, threw him in a pool and he sank, you wouldn't call it a 'failure of swimming'. So, when markets have been weighted down by inept and excessive regulation, why call this a 'failure of capitalism'?" - Peter Boettke

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Kate Braithwaite

unless I've missed something, this blog/these comments seem not to have clocked the fact that Atlas Shrugged featured prominently in Season 1 of Mad Men in 2007 (Cooper recommends his up and coming underlings to model their world view on it). Increased sales - causation or correlation?

Mike Zemack

Comments here (and elsewhere) critical of Rand, Atlas Shrugged, and Objectivism indicate that the correspondents have no idea what they are against. This tells me that the intellectual road is clear for the spread of Objectivism. My advice to anyone open to new ideas is-read the book and judge its philosophical validity for yourself. Atlas is a good starting point for the study of Objectivism.

Among other attributes, Atlas Shrugged provides a moral sanction for the success of productive individuals at all levels of competence and intelligence. It is not a glorification of money-chasing at any cost, as the dishonest and misinformed would have us believe. Rather, it is the glorification of productive achievement...the real source of the value of money...and all of the personal virtues that that implies. Atlas dramatizes the value to society of the top tier of producers, and demonstrates that the virtues fundamental to the most productive wealth creators are practical for all. Those virtues include rationality, independent thinking, honesty, and integrity, to name a few of the cardinal virtues of Rand's philosophy.

The uncanny similarities between the book and today's events are a direct result of her belief in the power of ideas in shaping human events. For example, one of the heroes in the novel, financier Midas Mulligan, closes his bank in protest of government policies. Rand explains:

"He quit because of the squeeze; he was ordered (by law) to give unsound credit to some group of the needy (investment as charity, not on the ground of production, but on the ground of need)-and then he would be blamed as a vicious capitalist for the collapse of the bank, for wiping out the savings of 'the little people, widows and orphans', etc."

Those words were written in 1947 and were part of her notes on the novel she was just beginning to write, yet they are a perfect description of one of the root causes of today's crisis (Journals of Ayn Rand, page 552). Far from refuting Rand, today's events vindicate her. Atlas is full of similar parallels, not of actual events, but of the ideas behind the events. Rand was not a prophet. She just understood that ideas have logical consequences that can be projected into the future. Nor is Objectivism a religion (i.e., based upon faith), but rather a practical philosophical guide to living. Take it from a 60 year old Objectivist family man who discovered Rand some four plus decades ago.

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Rebecca

I never got around to reading Atlas Shrugged. I was required to read Anthem first- fine, she made her point in about 100, 150 pages- decent argument, relatively good read. Then I read the Fountainhead- pretty much a requirement if you're an architecture major (not because you have to read it in school, but because everyone assumes you've read it). Same argument, much less concise, and completely wrong about how architects work (sorry- even Frank Lloyd Wright worked with other people- he certainly didn't do his own renderings) I can't bring myself to read Atlas Shrugged- even longer, and as far as I can tell doesn't make a new point. The Fountainhead was torture enough.

Derick

Warning: don't read Atlas Shrugged, because the things people are all evading might become clear to you, and that could be troubling.

The comments that "but what about Greenspan! Ayn Rand actually caused all this!" and that we need more regulations to fix this are ironic because that's prophetic as well. In the book people who are supossed to represent capitalism but don't (bad businessmen who make deals with the government, etc) are used as examples by those who want a larger government. And government-created crisis is blamed on the free market and leads to more controls.

Greenspan was the head of the Federal Reserve; he was no real Objectivist.

Corporate subsidies and deals and false government incentives to invest will ruin the economy, but when we see people in black suits with lots of money are involved we immediately go "capitalism bad!"

Derick

Very happy to see Atlas Shrugged get a reference. Everyone should read it.

RayG01

My 2 cents of theory is thus; it's such a popular book that are literally millions of people from college age to middle age who have been told to read the book by some intellectual friend (that libertarian friend who always has a different view than the rest of your friends).

So when we begin to see the nationalization of banks, and class warfare started anew, all of those old recommendations come to the fore.

Amanda

To Alex-
The Rand book mentioned in "Dirty Dancing" is "The Fountainhead"... Robbie's comment to Baby is that "Some people count, some people don't." which is such a trite oversimplification of what either book (or any on Rand's books for that matter), that Baby's response with nausea is very appropriate.

Jeffrey

Most of us learned that life imitates art when we read "The Lorax."

Eric M. Jones

Atlas Shrugged--I can't wait to see the movie starring Brad Pitt, Angela Jolie, and Russell Crowe; to be released in 2011.

JackDoitCrawford

I also recommend that people read Ayn Rand's fiction first, before reading The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal or her other non-fiction works. A philosophy that is as new as hers is will be very hard to comprehend quickly or in one reading. That is why the fiction should be read first, for the story. If you notice, no one mentions epistemology, but that is vital to understanding any philosophy.

Melissa

Just wanted to say thank you to commenters Caca Fuego and Alex. You both captured two of my most prominent stands of thought about Atlas shrugged.