The whole premise of Atlas Shrugged** is that government control of the economy isn't the motor of the world: rather it's the creative individual who is the motor of the world.
If ever Americans are to see a better future, we each will have to do two things: First, stop envying creative individuals. Second, understand that America has a mixed economy, not a capitalist economy. Our economy is part fascist, part socialist, and part capitalist. This last part is dying at an accelerating rate.
Envy is the desire to harm another person (or thing) because you perceive something good about them (or it). Ayn Rand wrote an article entitled 'The Age of Envy', in which she noted that envy is 'hatred of the good for being the good'. If you are to find your own talents and purpose in life, you must first learn to admire people with talent, and dump any desire to harm them. Ask them how they got so good at what they do, compliment them, and recognize that without creative individuals, we would have no material values in the world at all.
Atlas Shrugged has a principal character who is the embodiment of an envious second-hander. (A second-hander is one who makes decisions based on what others think, not based on their own thinking). James Taggart is President of a railroad, but he refuses to make any major decisions or take any responsibility in his career, and instead enviously relies on his sister, Dagny, to take initiative as Operating Vice President to keep the railroad running. As the novel goes on, James progressively reveals his desire to destroy the primary hero of the novel.
Capitalism is an economic system where no person, no group of persons, nor the government has any right to initiate force against a person. This means every adult has the right to handle his own economic affairs, to run any business he might create as he sees fit, to choose any career he may want to enter, to keep the results of his effort, to determine who he will do business with, and to set his prices through the voluntary exchange of services and products with others.
Atlas Shrugged is not a novel about capitalism versus socialism. It is not a diatribe on economics. It's a dramatic story of creative people going on strike, and what happens to society when the creative mind is absent from that economy. If you can imagine an America where people with creativity and initiative to solve the problems stop working to their fullest capacity, then you have an idea of the events that take place in Atlas Shrugged.
Without creativity, without problem solvers, industries close their doors, or fade away into disrepair and uncompetitiveness. Innovations are no longer made. Infrastructure crumbles. Transportation becomes more hazardous, expensive, and unreliable. The social fabric unravels, and people have no good will toward their fellow man. Mutual respect has devolved into mutual distrust, fear, or contempt.
Of course, in the novel, the government responds to the mounting economic disasters by attempting to seize control of the economy, but the ineptitude of the bureaucrats only causes greater disruptions and problems in the economy.
One man, John Galt, is responsible for the disappearance of the creative individuals. The most talented artists, scientists, inventors, businessmen, financiers, doctors, philosophers, musicians, etc., have joined John Galt on strike and hide in a mountain valley, on the private land held by the financier, 'Midas' Mulligan. The valley isn't a utopia model of a capitalist society. It's simply a place where individuals all agree that the unearned is never granted, and that no adult is obligated to live for the sake of another.
Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged (and all her fictional novels) because she enjoyed writing about her type of man. She didn't write Atlas Shrugged to save the world, she didn't write her fiction in order to tell people how to live their lives. She wrote each because she had an interesting story to tell, she enjoyed writing about people of ability, and she wanted to write stories that showed the world as it could be, and ought to be. All good literature, in her view (and in Aristotle's view), shows the world as it can be and ought to be.
Anyone that you hear who is slamming Ayn Rand or Atlas Shrugged is either
a) very envious of her success as a first-generation immigrant and proud American,
b) very upset that in twelve (12) pages of Atlas Shrugged, a character blasts the Marxist slogan “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” sky-high*
c) very threatened by her principled philosophy which rejects statism, rejects brute force, rejects altruism, and rejects a Platonic universe.
A capitalist society without envy has never existed on earth. It's time we all renounce initiation of force from the economic and personal affairs of individuals. If America doesn't, we're all in for more economic and social pain, for years to come.
*While Ayn Rand didn't write a treatise on capitalism versus socialism, she took the time to demonstrate the failure of the Marxist slogan to be practiced in reality (being a refugee of the soviet takeover, system, and purges, she was eminently qualified to render an objective judgment on it). In the large paper-back or hardcover read pages 660 to 672, beginning with the tramp talking with Dagny on the train, where the tramp says that he may have started the slogan 'Who is John Galt'.
**First published in 1957, it's still a best-selling novel more than 50 years later. I recommend to anyone to read Atlas Shrugged and enjoy it while you can. One day it will probably be a banned book.
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