A reason for the resurgence of interest in Atlas Shrugged over the past decade is that its plot of a collapsing America parallels the sad situation in the country today. As important, the novel reveals the moral causes behind our world’s crisis.
In Atlas Shrugged, Rand paints a picture of two types of business people. There are creators who grow rich because they run efficient, productive enterprises or invent and manufacture revolutionary products. They thrive in a system in which individuals trade goods and services with one another based on mutual consent. In today’s world these are the real capitalists, such as the new tech entrepreneurs like the late Steve Jobs or like Elon Musk, creator of private rockets and the Tesla cars.
And there are the “crony capitalists,” those who use the government to secure special taxpayer handouts or regulations that cripple their competitors. They battle in a system in which raw political power determines who survives or parishes. In today’s world they are found in “green” companies like the energy firm Solyndra that cannot make products that actually works, in Wall Street banks that make reckless investments, and in auto companies like GM that build cars that are too costly to sell without massive subsidies. They are the corruption in our system.
In Atlas Shrugged, Rand shows the creators demonized as “selfish” because they love their work and grow rich through their own honest efforts. President Obama’s whole ideology is based on whipping up envy against the “one percent” and even belittling their achievements with “You didn’t build that. Someone else made it happen.” By contrast, the cronies pose as friends of the downtrodden, even as they destroy the morality of enterprise necessary for anyone who wishes to improve their lot in life.
In Atlas Shrugged, Rand shows the results of this anti-individualist dogma and the policies that follow from it: businesses, banks, and cities collapsing into bankruptcy and ruin. In today’s world, can you say “Detroit?”
In Atlas Shrugged, Rand also shows the creators who refuse to sanction their own destroyers, who refuse to be sacrificial victims, who refuse to suffer as they hold up the world for those who condemn them taking the only moral action they can. They go on strike. They shrug. One outstanding entrepreneur after another quietly disappears, leaving the looters to fight over what few crumbs are left.
In today’s world, we more and more see Atlases shrugging. We see investors sitting on perhaps $1 trillion in capital that they refuse to put into productive enterprises that are vulnerable to Obama’s jihad against the “wealthy.” We see businesses moving from high tax states with heavy-handed regulations to more friendly jurisdictions, for example, a flood of firms moving from California to Arizona and Nevada.
We see American enterprises setting up legal residency in other countries to avoid the rising American tax burden, as Burger King recently did by becoming a Canadian company. Obama and the Democrats are desperate to stop this “tax inversion” because they are running out of victims. And we see medical doctors taking early retirement or going on a cash-only basis to avoid being under the weight of Obamacare.
And in Atlas Shrugged, Rand shows that the path to a free, prosperous society and to personal happiness is a philosophy of rational self-interest. Individuals must assert their right to their own lives and to the liberty to pursue values, careers, family and friends that fulfill them. They must take pride in their achievements, whether nurturing a child to maturity or a business to profitability; whether writing a song, poem, or business plan; whether designing a building, laying its bricks, or arranging for its financing. They must never be guilt-tripped into servitude.
Only then can we live in a world as it can be and should be.
Hudgins is director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society.