Saturday, March 21, 2015

Books: Some Comments On Atlas Shrugged By Ayn Rand

(Drivebycuriosity) -  Better late than never. Finally I finished the novel  "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand (amazon). The 1,188 pages are a challenge but the book is at least worth browsing it. "Atlas", published 1957, is called dystopian science fiction because Rand described a sinister fantasy world (driveby). But contrary to the mainstream of dystopian authors Rand was basically very optimistic. She beliefed in technology - and entrepreneurs were her heroes. But she was very pessimistic for a world controlled by politicians, bureaucrats and for socialist experiments, maybe influenced by her childhood in communist Russia.

I see "Atlas" as an economic textbook in the shape of a novel. Rand described dramatically how a government destroys the economy, existences and lifes when the politicians replace self interest and the profit motive by "needs" and "social progressive ideas" and swap entrepeneurs by bureaucrats. Rand predicted (somewhat) the breakdown of the then powerful Soviet Union (wikipedia) and today´s mess in Greece.

Here a defining paragraph: "They ran first. They deserted us, one after another……Our plan? We put into practice this noble historical precept: From each according to his ability, to each acceding to his need. Everybody in the company, from charwoman to president, received the same salary - the barest minimum necessary. Twice a year, we all gathered in a mass meeting, where every person presented his claim for what we believed to be his needs. We voted on every claim, and the will of the majority established every person`s need and every person´s ability. The income of the factory was diverted accordingly. Rewards were based on need, and the penalties on ability. Those whose needs were voted to be the greatest, received the most. Those who had not produced as much as the vote said they could, were fined and had to pay the fines by working overtime without pay. That was our plan. it was based on the principle of selfless. It required men to be motivated, not by personal gain, but by love for their brothers."

                                                      Rearden Steel

A part of Rand´s technological predictions and speculation are becoming true as well. Today global oil procuction is rising thanks to US entrepreneurs who are using new technologies to tap Shale oil as described in "Atlas". Another prediction could soon become reality: The "Economist" reports that scientists and engineers are developing "an alloy of iron and aluminium which is as good as titanium, at a tenth of the cost" (economist) - exactly as described in "Atlas" ("Rearden Steel").

Rand also drew a precise picture of the mainstream media (newspapers) who focus on negative news and pessismistic "experts" and polemize against corporations & enterpreneurs (today for instance New York Times, New Yorker, Atlantic Magazine, Süddeutsche Zeitung).

I wasn`t much entertained by the plot. Rand painted with a thick brush, many actions were overdramatic for my taste and I couldn´t really believe in the characters. The book would have gained much if a qualified editor would have if it condensed down to around 300 pages. Anyway,  I enjoyed the novel as a satire and an important philosophical work. "Atlas" is certainly an antipode to Karl Marx, maybe the "Anti-Das Kapital". If more poeple would read "Atlas" and learn from Ayn Rand, the world would be a better place.

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