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Review: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas ShruggedAtlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A convincing argument for capitalism and freedom from government interference, told in an eerily realistic story. America’s industrialists go on strike to protest the mooching of the government and “the Looters”, while the country’s attempts at economic equality cause it to suffer the consequences of socialism and the redistribution of wealth. The book is quite long, but it didn’t feel like it, because the characters are well-defined and the plot keeps moving. I recommend it if you’re interested in business, economics, or politics.

I’ve always been an advocate of capitalism and small government, so I agreed with the basic political and economic philosophy. The book consists of several intertwining stories stretching over many years; they feature envy, jealousy, political wrangling, and glimpses into the lifestyles of high society. Because of the topic, the story is serious, and there are few humorous parts. The end is appropriate for closing the story, but it was anti-climactic.

Especially near the end, the story goes too far in defending materialism, and becomes downright anti-spiritual. The moral is that your own life is your only value, and your own happiness is your only purpose (achieved through your work).

Themes
Socialism results in a cannibalistic, dysfunctional economy, because everyone starts mooching off everyone else. It disincentivizes achievement and success. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” fails. Free trade works best when people work in their self-interest, without a sense of social responsibility.

People are accountable for their intelligence and responsibility. Incompetence is frustrating, and it’s difficult to find people of talent and action.

Life is purposeful motion. You must be taking action and moving forward, not stagnating.

The lower and middle classes demonize the rich because they don’t understand them. They see the rich as selfish and greedy, not as people who’ve earned their way. They use their sense of need as a claim on the earned property of the rich.

The lower and middle classes think the government has all the answers. They think that if it wasn’t for the “profit-seekers” who hampered the government’s plans, the country would be prosperous. In reality, government exists to protect from violence the citizens who pay for it (taxpayers).

Anti-business legislation
A main theme in the book is the government’s interference in private trade and the economy. There are many backroom deals between businessmen and Washington, and no shortage of anti-business legislation.

The Fair Share Law dictates that businesses can’t choose who to do business with. They must fill orders from everyone, regardless of profitability.

The Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule forbids competition between railroads in the same geographic area, supposedly to prevent “destructive competition”, but the actual purpose is to hurt one railroad company.

The Equalization of Opportunity bill stipulates that a person can only own one business, and is used by the Looters to seize others’ businesses for themselves.

The Unification Board seeks to centralize and socialize the economy; it says that people can’t quit or change jobs, and no new patents can be issued. These laws are supposedly passed to prevent businesses from wasting resources on competition. The rationale is that a centralized, command and control economy is more efficient than a competitive one.

Defense of capitalism
Several characters make speeches in defense of capitalism. Henry Rearden defends himself in court, refusing to apologize for his ability, success, and wealth.

My favorite speech was one by Francisco d'Anconia, where he declares that money is not the root of evil; it’s a tool for exchanging value. It allows people to trade effort instead of using force. But money is more than a tool; it’s a token of honor; he says “wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think”, and that “money is made by the effort of every honest man each to the extent of his ability.” Money is made possible only by those who produce; it’s a product of effort, not of the moochers or looters. d'Anconia praises the concept of the self-made man: the American industrialist who replaced swordsmen and slaves. He also admires the American invention of the concept of “making money”; people used to think of wealth as static, and economics as a zero-sum game, but America defined the dynamic generation of wealth that benefits all economic participants.



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