Atlas Shrugged: A Vision of The Future?

“I’m leaving it as I found it. Take over. It’s yours.

At the closing of the first installment of the book-turned-movie trilogy Atlas Shrugged, this phrase was posted in view of the burning oil fields formerly owned by entrepreneur Ellis Wyatt. Wyatt had “shrugged” his “responsibility” to provide the nation’s key source of oil and disappeared, escaping suffocating government regulation and an exceedingly anti-capitalist society. His hard work, innovation, and risk-taking had built his business. As he grew more successful, however, Wyatt Oil was exploited by laws that de-incentivized success. Thus, he escaped, taking his brain and talent with him. This is where Atlas Shrugged II begins.

*Caution: Possible Spoilers Ahead.*

The film takes place in the “near future” where gas prices are $40 per gallon and unemployment has skyrocketed. The “Fair Share” law has revolutionized the “free” market by forcing businesses to provide their products equally to all who request them, regardless of the size of the entity. Thus, larger businesses are not able to acquire enough oil, coal, metal, etc. to function and smaller businesses have more product than they know what to do with. In other words: redistribution of wealth has become commonplace and class warfare has erupted. Large businesses are perpetually surrounded by protesters holding Occupy-esque signs with slogans demonizing the rich and pleading for their “fair share.” Sound familiar? Sure, the events in Atlas Shrugged are extreme, but I’m confident that if we don’t make a change now, they will soon become a reality.

What struck me as most familiar was the political and social culture in which Atlas Shrugged took place. The term “fair share” was tossed around like a hot potato, yet no one could define what it meant. Can we define what it means in 2012? Someone? Anyone? Bueller? Another phrase that was repeated often during the film was, “it’s not my fault” or “I don’t want to take the responsibility.” For some reason I had a vision of Barack Obama mentioning something about “the mess he inherited,” but I digress. Few characters stood up to take responsibility for anything. Thus, like the mythical Atlas, the few remaining hardworking entrepreneurs were holding the world up on their shoulders and the burden got heavier by the day. The remainder of the people waited for a handout or for someone to take responsibility from them. This is certainly a frightening trend, and one we see today. If we all don’t start taking a bit more personal responsibility, 2012 might look a little bit like the nation in Atlas Shrugged.

While the film portrays a pessimistic picture of our future, I left the theater with a feeling of hope. While Ayn Rand certainly spends more of her novel attacking the perils of collectivism and socialism, she also not-so-subtly points out that the heart of the free market is the businessman who DID build his business, gaining success in the process. Many of the film’s villains (and many public figures today) demonized the wealthy, claiming that profit was their only goal. While both primary characters Henry Rearden and Dagny Taggart expressed profit as a main priority in their lives, the route that they took to make their fortunes was what really mattered. Francisco D’Anconia put it best when he stated: “Having money is not the measure of a man. What matters is how you got it.” In Ayn Rand’s conception, money is worthless unless it can back its validity on hard work, innovation, and risk taking; all key characteristics of the American entrepreneurs who built our nation. Money that is unjustly acquired or “looted” is meaningless, for it guts the heart of profit all together. Therefore, this is why Ellis Wyatt’s resounding words “I’m leaving it as I found it” make such an impact. He DID build his success. Without his talent and initiative, the booming business of Wyatt Oil would never have existed.

I was so impressed with the film that I actually saw it twice within a 36 hour period. However, as a warning, it is not a film that screams social conservatism. Ayn Rand was an atheist and this is evident in her works. In her mind, the greatest authority is the individual, not God. I disagree with her on this core issue of her ideology (labeled Objectivism), but I believe the films Atlas Shrugged parts 1 and 2 (and soon 3) are valuable tools for those of us with a conservative or libertarian approach to fiscal issues. Above all, Atlas Shrugged II should serve as a warning for all of us. Unless we throw phrases like “fair share” and concepts like collectivism in the trash bin of history, our great nation will resemble the America in which Atlas Shrugged took place. We must espouse, and more importantly, pride ourselves, in the characteristics that propelled the heroes of the film to victory: hard work, personal responsibility, and belief in a free market. We must stop demonizing success and instead praising innovation. We DID build America. That’s something of which all Americans should be proud.

Amy Lutz | St. Louis University | @AmyLutz4

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14 Responses

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  1. Andy
    Nov 30, 2012 - 02:39 AM

    Make no mistake, the Western world has morphed from a Capitalist society to a Socialist society. What is the incentive for people to become rich if firstly they’ll be labelled as “the problem” and secondly if they end up having to pay more for people that refuse to work.
    Remember, Communism and Socialism work ONLY IF EVERY INDIVIDUAL WORKS TO THEIR FULL CAPACITY and only takes their share. Capitalism works because people have an incentive to work to their full capacity (ie they’ll get rewarded financially for it).
    I met a whole lot of unemployed people studying Spanish (in Australia where we couldn’t be much further from any spanish speaking countries!) who were all complaining about how hard it is to live off unemployment benefits. When asked why they’d choose to use their benefits to learn spanish instead of some other skill that might actually help them the response was that they were planning to travel around South America the following year on money that they’d saved while being on benefits.
    Now if we were in a Capitalist country my telling them off would have been backed up by every working person in that room (roughly half of the people there). It wasn’t. I was shamed for my “Capatilist greed”. Imagine that, I’m being “greedy” because I don’t like my tax money to go to pay for these bludgers not only to live, but to also have a holiday!
    As more people are following suit with these lazy people, the burden is falling more and more onto the willing workers and it won’t be long before the government has to take control and start to allocate jobs to people based on their skills, like what happened in Communism.
    It won’t be called Communism at first, it’ll be called something like the proactive employment initiative and will be hailed as the solution to all our problems and we won’t realise what’s happening with the big picture until many years later, by which time it’ll be much harder to change.
    You all wanted change, you’re just not looking far enough ahead to see where that change is taking you.
    Public dissent is outlawed. Anti-government protest is outlawed. Free speech is being stifled. Are we living in free countries? Just because you agree with the majority of what’s happening, doesn’t mean you’re free, you’re just happy to go along with the status quo.
    The real measure of your true freedom is whether or not you can go against the staus quo without finding yourself labelled an enemy of the state, thrown in jail or worse.
    Remember, the people who suffered under communism were the same people who welcomed the change in system when it first came in because it promised them a bigger slice of the pie only to realise that to receive the pie they had to be chained and gagged. By the time they realised what had happened it was too late.

  2. Mike
    Oct 19, 2012 - 03:57 PM

    I reread it every couple of years just to keep things in perspective. As the users continue to exploit the producers, the producers will lessen their output.

    • Jim Prokop
      Oct 22, 2012 - 02:29 PM

      Sorry, Mike, it just isn’t that simple. Never has been….never will be. If reading Rand’s tripe makes you feel good and entertains you…so be it. But, it’s a long way from the reality of the human condition. And, yes, I have read both Atlas & The Fountainhead. To me they were nothing but a slog.

      • Andy
        Nov 29, 2012 - 11:34 PM

        It’s not that simple, but consider this:
        I work as an engineer who works hard and makes ‘good’ money. I pay a significant amount of tax more than the average worker.
        If I make a mistake that results in the injury or death of a colleague I can be punished with fines, can be sued and even jailed.
        Compare that with a guy who stacks shelves at a local supermarket for minimum wage. Not paid much, below average tax contribution, but almost no negative outcome for any mistakes made on the job.
        I could work for 30 years and live a comfortable life and have it all taken away because of one mistake, or lead a mediocre life knowing it can’t be taken away.
        This is why I’m planning on finishing up once my house is paid off a downsizing. I don’t want all my years of hard work and good financial management to get lost because of one mistake made on the job.
        Even if you have professional indemnity insurance, you could still end up in jail. Where’s the incentive for that?
        I think you’d find if more people entering fields like Engineering fully understood the risks both personal and financial that there’d be far fewer of them choosing to enter the field.

  3. Jim Prokop
    Oct 19, 2012 - 02:56 AM

    Skook: Have read her and was not impressed then nor am I now. Sorry to disappoint you. She made me cringe then and still does. As I find out more about her I feel completely validated. And that’s the way it is…..

    • Skook
      Oct 19, 2012 - 01:52 PM

      Fair enough, a difference of opinion is the basis of a horse race.

  4. Jim Prokop
    Oct 17, 2012 - 03:26 PM

    Amy: Thanks for keeping the right-wing demonetization…hate President Obama…hate all Democrats…rhetoric to a minimum. The invective that gets thrown around on these blogs…..and try to pass as legitimate conservatism is mind-boggling to say the least. That having been said,I think you should do a bit more research on good old Ayn Rand before you start to sing her praise. She was clearly a sociopath for most of her life. She was enthralled, on a personal level, with a psychopathic killer imprisoned in California. She cared for nothing but herself and other person’s she considered good heretics. Dissent is a good and necessary thing but anarchy is quite another. In the end she succumbed to lung cancer no doubt brought on by her life-long chain-smoking. Ironically, while she claimed to HATE government and all it stood for…she tapped her Medicare benefits, in last ditch effort to stay alive after the private medical care system bankrupted her. In the end, the very things she touted left her high and dry. Social Darwinism at it’s best. Capitalism…well no doubt a good system, for most people, but it is as vicious as a bear in it’s purest form. One needs to keep this in mind when promoting such works as “Atlas Shrugged” and the SERIOUSLY flawed people who author them. Just saying….

    • Skook
      Oct 18, 2012 - 06:13 PM

      Jim, I read Rand nearly 50 years ago and the memories are dim, but I remember the emotions she stirred. Perhaps we should look to the main purpose of a writer, rather than dwell to deeply into their personal lives. If a writer can induce people to think and question certain theories or ideas, the author has accomplished the primary goal of writing.

      I am not an apologist for Rand, but I admire the authors and their skills when they can energize our youth and adults after 70 years. How many current authors evoke such emotions and how relevant will their writing be in 50 years.

      Certainly, Rand was a contradiction in many ways, but it is difficult to portray yourself as an erudite person without having read the works of Ayn Rand.

      • DR_BRETT
        Oct 19, 2012 - 06:58 PM

        Each and every point — from a Complete Package Of LIES .

        “Errors of knowledge are not breaches of morality;
        no proper moral code can demand infallibility or omniscience.
        But if,
        in order to escape the responsibility of MORAL JUDGMENT,
        a man closes his eyes and mind,
        if he EVADES THE FACTS of the issue and
        struggles NOT TO KNOW,
        he cannot be regarded as “gray”;
        morally, he is AS “BLACK” AS THEY COME.”

        – Ayn Rand,
        “THE CULT Of Moral Grayness” June 1964
        included in the book

      • DR_BRETT
        Oct 19, 2012 - 07:01 PM

        My comment responds to J.P.

      • Jim Prokop
        Oct 22, 2012 - 03:58 AM

        DR Brett: ” Each and every point- from a complete pack of lies” What the fuck are you talking about? I can back-up everything I cited. So, WHERE are the lies? Name them one-by-one. You may disagree with my conclusion but the facts are the facts. As the old saying goes: “you can have your own opinion but not your own facts.”

    • LouA3465
      Oct 19, 2012 - 04:34 AM

      Anyone who is taxed to pay for a social program has a right to utilize that social program, whether he or she agrees with it, or not. We both know that you are trying to paint Rand as a hypocrite, but it is apparently you who does not know the meaning of hypocrisy, or you’re just simply being disingenuous. If Rand had a choice to pay for Medicare, and didn’t, and THEN utilized it, THEN she would have been a hypocrite, but that’s not what happened. If you think Medicare is such a great idea, then YOU and your ilk should be more than happy to pay for it–I don’t want to pay for it, and I don’t want to be a recipient of it…LEAVE ME/US ALONE! But of course, you and you’re ilk can’t resist the temptation of being “compassionate” (LMFAO) with everyone else’s money.

      • Jim Prokop
        Oct 22, 2012 - 04:14 AM

        LouA3465: I am sure most people would be happy to just leave you alone cuz I am sure most people couldn’t stand to be around you, with you nasty personality. I was not commenting on whether I liked Medicare or not but I do know about 95% of the population think it’s a pretty good idea and I can count at least ten people I know who would be bankrupt and dead without it. But, I digress. Ayn Rand was a hypocrite (in the eyes of most people and the common usage of the term) as well as a sociopath,which is far worse than the fact she availed herself to something she railed against.Had she wanted to be “true” to her convictions in the face of death she could have just “bucked-up” and died the way a good Social Darwinist is supposed to. Survival of the fittest! No moochers! But…no. You sound as if you suffer from some of the same afflictions.

      • Andy
        Nov 29, 2012 - 11:21 PM

        She did die the way a good ‘Social Darwinist’ dies, if you mean in the true nature of Darwin. Darwin did not say “survival of the fittest” or “strongest”, he said “most adaptable to change”.
        She changed with the situation facing her. She used her money for as long as she could and then adapted. She’d have been a hypocrite if she’d accessed public health funds while sitting on her own money.
        To die the way you suggest would be like a vegetarian letting themselves starve to death if there was only meat available. They’d stay “true to their beliefs”, but they’d have failed to adapt to their environment.
        Good work with the usual ‘can’t fault the message so I’ll assinate the character of the messenger’, by the way. When someone tells me my house is on fire, I don’t first do a background check to find out if his character is up to scratch before I check out what they’re telling me, I’d do something about it!

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