Atlas Shrugged: The Social Safety Net

Atlas Shrugged, p.65-80

There are a few plot developments at the start of this chapter that I’ll skim over. We find out that it’s getting difficult for Dagny to keep Taggart Transcontinental running, because their business associates are becoming unreliable:

She was back from a trip to the plant of the United Locomotive Works in New Jersey, where she had gone to see the president of the company in person. She had learned nothing: neither the reason for the delays nor any indication of the date when the Diesel engines would be produced. [p.66]

Meanwhile, poor, tragic Eddie Willers tells her that McNamara, their best contractor, has mysteriously closed his business and vanished:

Eddie said, “He’s walked out on a pile of contracts that are worth a fortune. He’s had a waiting list of clients for the next three years…” She said nothing. He added, his voice low, “I wouldn’t be frightened if I could understand it… But a thing that can’t have any possible reason…” [p.67]

McNamara is the latest on a list of vanished people, including Richard Halley, Dagny’s favorite composer, who retired and disappeared from society the day after the last performance of his final opera, Phaethon. (In Halley’s opera, Phaethon succeeds in driving the sun’s chariot across the sky, rather than causing disaster before being killed by Zeus as in the original Greek myth. This always reminds me of the Taylor Swift song which rewrites Romeo and Juliet to have a happy ending.)

We also learn that the government of Mexico, now called “the People’s State of Mexico”, has seized the San Sebastian Line and the copper mines it was going to connect to, validating Dagny’s resistance to building it, but resulting in huge losses for Jim Taggart and Orren Boyle. Both of them are furious that investing their money with Francisco d’Anconia hasn’t delivered them the safe returns they thought they were owed (“Is he going to be taken by a bunch of Greaser politicians with a decree?” demands Jim, rhetorically – it’s not clear whether we’re meant to take this racism as further evidence of his villainy).

But the biggest development in this chapter is that the National Alliance of Railroads votes for a regulation called the “Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule”, designed to put an end to “destructive competition” by declaring that no more than one railroad will be allowed to run service in any one area of the country, giving seniority to the older and larger railroads. The effect of this will be to shut down Taggart Transcontinental’s main rival, the Phoenix-Durango, which is currently serving the industries in Colorado and which Dagny was trying to rebuild the Rio Norte Line to compete with.

When Dagny finds out from a gloating Jim that the rule has passed, she’s furious with him and rushes out to meet with the Phoenix-Durango’s president, Dan Conway. Conway used to be one of the good capitalists – we know this because he has “the face of a fighter” and because he cares about nothing besides managing a railroad and making money: “The whole sphere of human endeavors… left him blankly indifferent; he had no touch of that which people called culture” [p.78]. But when Dagny urges him to fight back, she finds he’s thrown in the towel:

“I’ve never gone back on my word in my life,” he said tonelessly. “I don’t care what the courts decide. I promised to obey the majority. I have to obey.” [p.78]

“It’s not about you, it’s… Dan,” she said suddenly. “I hope you know it’s not for your sake that I wanted to help you fight.”

He smiled; it was a faint, friendly smile. “I know,” he said.

“It’s not out of pity or charity or any ugly reason like that. Look, I intended to give you the battle of your life, down there in Colorado. I intended to cut into your business and squeeze you to the wall and drive you out, if necessary… I would have fought you, and if I could make my road better than yours, I’d have broken you and not given a damn about what happened to you.” [p.80]

Remember what I said at the beginning of the book: Dagny is one of the heroes, and her attitude is one we’re meant to find brave and heroic and to cheer on. You can never have too many reminders of this.

Now, I’m not against competition per se. In general, people should be able to decide where to spend their own money, and if one business offers a better product than another, then it should be my choice to shop there. The competition this produces gives rise to all the benefits of capitalism: new and better ways of doing things, and greater efficiency in doing the things we’ve already figured out. But those benefits have to be balanced against the human costs: people being exploited, losing their livelihoods, suffering from poverty and deprivation.

However, in Rand’s view, it seems as if these aren’t drawbacks. She treats it like a law of the cosmos that there should be competition, not because it benefits everyone in society or because it’s the most efficient way of allocating resources, but because it’s right that better businessmen should mercilessly devour and destroy weaker ones (remember, she considers pity and charity to be “ugly” emotions). Her attitude is like the law of the jungle personified.

Ironically, this capitalism-red-in-tooth-and-claw philosophy is ultimately irrational and counterproductive. If you want people to take risks, the best way to do it is to create a social safety net that guarantees a minimum standard of living for everyone in society. That way, a would-be innovator will know that if you start a business and it fails, you won’t lose everything and end up utterly ruined, broken and starving in the gutter. That prospect would surely chill the entrepreneurial spirit in anyone.

If Rand doesn’t see this, it’s because her philosophy – almost like the philosophy of The Secret – holds that everyone gets what they deserve, no matter what, and people who take risks in the proper spirit of heroic determination can’t possibly fail. Remember her rewriting of the story of Phaethon: the original myth was a cautionary tale about not accepting responsibilities you’re unprepared for, but she turns it into a parable that anyone can achieve anything if they really want to. As with Dan Conway, the only cause of failure is giving up. If you start with that as an axiom, then it’s easy to see why there’d be no need for a social safety net. But what evidence could possibly lead you to the conclusion that this is how the universe works?

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  • Brian Utterback

    I am sure that Rand would argue that having a social safety net means fewer people have to take risks and thus slows down progress, not speeds it up. What wasn’t really know in her day and isn’t widely discussed even now is that that while successful people are risk takers, risk takers do not tend to be successful people. The thing about being a risk taker is that you have to be good at it (not taking unnecessary risks) and lucky (having the important situations work out your way). For instance, statistics have shown that the primary difference between successful hedge fund managers and unsuccessful ones is that the successful ones had their failures after they had enough successes to mean that they had a buffer and didn’t go completely broke and they didn’t have too many failures in a row.

  • Jeff

    I’m a solid liberal and mostly enjoyed this book. The article today made me realize why (at least a portion of it; there’s a lot to Atlas Shrugged, and while there were parts I thought were terrible, there were parts that were pretty dang good for a variety of reasons). It has to do with gaming.

    Games are great, and I love a variety of them: card games, video games, board games, and a handful of physical sports. And when I’m playing, I play to win (with the understanding that a win only counts if it’s within the bounds of the rules of the game; any kind of cheating invalidates an otherwise earned victory). In that sense, I agree with what Dagny said in this passage and do appreciate her as a hero. She wants to be on top, but she wants to get there under her own power. If an outside force were to intervene and install her at the top, she’d resist it and work on behalf of those who are her opponents in every other way. There’s definitely something admirable, in the gamer sense, about rescuing an opponent because you want to be the one to take them out. In the purely abstract, I’m on Dagny’s side here.

    The difference, of course, is that games are games; real life is not a game. Even the really complex ones (I’m thinking of Magic: the Gathering here, so I’ll use it as an example; my apologies to anyone not familiar with the game), that make an effort to weave a realistic world as a context for the rules of the game, are just make-believe. If I summon up an army of knights and soldiers, those aren’t really people. It doesn’t matter at all if I choose to let them sit as a defensive force, or send them on a suicide mission for no good reason, or just toss them into some magical furnace as ingredients in some bigger scheme. They’re only real people within the context of the game, and any benefit I get from exploiting them only exists within the context of the game. So there’s nothing immoral about summoning up a bunch of dudes and then casting a Mutilate spell to kill them all. There’s nothing immoral about laying waste to literally every single thing in the world and leaving nothing but ashes behind.

    If Atlas Shrugged were just a novel, I would love it. But Ayn Rand wrote it as a parable, as a guidebook to an ideal society. She intended it to be taken seriously and that its moral lessons be applied to real life. There’s no apparent difference made between an abstract game and reality, and if there is, it’s irrelevant. Choices can be made that would absolutely devastate other people, and apparently the mark of a moral and just society is that some individuals have the option of devastating others for personal gain.

  • scroogleu

    Do people really still follow Rand’s rambling manifestos, and her circular distortions of philosophy? Anyone who lives by that is in dire need of a straight-jacket! However, I can understand the need for so many thoughtful atheists such as myself to publically disassociate ourselves from her twisted, ultra-narcissistic philosophy. It was her unfortunate popularity with some of my psychotic classmates (I now realize that whether they were atheists too is irrelevant) that caused me to delay (by decades) dealing with the fact that I cannot believe in the religious dogma of my upbringing!

  • Dryad

    If the whole point of existence is outmanuevering and crushing one another, why is it somehow “unfair” for the looters to use the government to do it? To use the gaming analogy, Taggart and the others are like the kid who decides all on their own that using a certain allowed move or character in the game is unfair, and refuses to use it, and then, when they keep getting beaten by other players who are using these techniques, they declare that everyone else is cheating and give up. They seem to have the idea in their heads that business is a sort of honorable duel to the death–within the rules, nothing is too ruthless or bloodthirsty, but you must not step outside of the artificial bounds we’ve decided on.

  • Dryad

    Although I guess the…Galt’s Gulchians (is there are a collective term for them?) are simply moving the metagame one step up and using a refusal to participate in the rest of the game as a strategy in the game. So it’s just like what was said above (or below or on either side or wherever Disqus wants to put it). If there was actually some sort of global geopolitics game and you worked out ‘hey, if I just buy up all the Entrepreneurs really early on and stick them in an isolated area then it will make all the other sides collapse around turn 10, including mine…but the Entrepreneurs will survive, so technically, I’ll win!’ it would be a clever strategy; it’s only when it starts involving real people that it starts getting gross.

    (And because you didn’t put any Farmers or Workers with the Entrepreneurs, they’d all die on turn 15 when their canned food ran out. You don’t care about that–you’ve already won by then. But it might be something for the Entrepreneurs to think about.)

  • arensb

    I’m quite willing to believe that people who work hard and don’t give up do better than those who don’t… on average. Which of course is the cue to tell the story of the statistician who drowned in a river even though it was only three feet deep on average.

  • Loren Petrich

    This reminds me of 19th cy. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who idolized aristocratic heroes and the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte:

    The object is to attain that enormous energy of greatness which
    can model the man of the future by means of discipline and also by
    means of the annihilation of millions of the bungled and botched, and
    which can yet avoid going to ruin at the sight of the suffering created thereby, the like of which has never been seen before.

    – The Will to Power

  • MrRoivas

    Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” has always been Nietzsche’s stupider, more sociopathic cousin.

  • scroogleu

    Unless you are of a different species than Homo Sapiens (or a psychotic, which would make you a defective member of the species) the point of your existence should never be outmanuevering and crushing all others. Since Ayn Rand failed to understand what separates humanity from animals, for which jungle law truly does rule, I believe she was a charismatic psychotic. Charles Manson was another example of a charismatic psysychotic, and it should be understood that only a relatively small percentage of psychotics (as defined by being chemically incapable of feeling empathy) express that trait through physical violence. Empathy is not the only trait which makes us different from other creatures (dogs know this trait). The difference is that our species has evolved the genes for many sociable traits of unmatched complexity, because those early humans who did not have those traits could not survive the conditions of close social grouping which was necessary for a naked, practically-toothless, and clawless creature which ran slow and could no longer climb very well. It was situational necessity of an unusual nature, not the gods of any religion that made us so different! But since people like Rand understand the power of their abilities without being troubled by any sense of social conscience, there you have the sum of her philosophy, in a nutshell!

  • smrnda

    I never get this either. Objectivists make it clear that, in business matters, it’s all about self-interest. At the same time, they are against democracy because people vote based on what’s in it for them and not on ‘metaphysical merits.’

  • smrnda

    The problem with the whole idea of ‘competition’ is that we really don’t have real open competition. There are lots of barriers to being a big player, and businesses engage in all sorts of deals to make sure that your choices get limited. Take deals that restaurants have with soda companies to *exclusively* use coke or pepsi products, or *exclusively* use Visa.

    I mean, there’s pretty limited choice out there, and businesses intend to keep it that way. All cell phone companies pretty much suck, but they know you’ve only got a few choices, and with mergers and such, you get less and less choice all the time.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    I just hate the business about the great 5th Concerto of Richard Halley. Rand seems to think that the right kind of art appeals to the right kind of people; and that, for the right kind of people, Halley is obviously the greatest composer ever.

    It also a reminder of how dated the book is. Tonality is in the midst of a comeback, and neo-Romanticism is all the rage.

    I don’t remember whether it takes place in this section or not, but there’s that scene at the party where the evil intellectual is proposing that there be a limit on the number of books published in a year. (Did anyone ever seriously propose that?) Given the rise of the net, such a suggestion would be laughed out of the room today.

  • Loren Petrich

    In effect, the more successful hedge-fund managers had created safety nets for themselves so they can survive failure better.


    Rand’s over riding theme appears to be the assertion that if we can only wring every last trace of humanity out of our government, we will then be rendered noble and pure. The only thing she succeeded in doing with her wretched philosophy is helping really awful people feel better about their awfulness.

  • Verbose Stoic

    You kinda need to understand Hobbes to see this. He starts from Egoism, just like the Objectivists, but the whole point and purpose of government is to be an overwhelming force that enforces the Social Contract. In the Objectivist case, the biggest duty of that is to enforce contracts and agreements (although there are other things as well). So, under Hobbes, we give the government — in Hobbes’ case, it was a king, but any government will do — overwhelming and absolute power, but limit that power to only what is required to benefit those living in that system, and all of them.

    For Rand here, the ideal is to promote competition. So if people use this overwhelming force to actually stifle competitors, that is not only unfair — because no one can, in fact, beat the government in a competition by definition — but also corrupts the purpose of a government. At best — and Randians may not see this — the government is supposed to ensure that the competition doesn’t go so far out of bounds that the society will no longer function or will collapse, not be used as a tool in competition itself.

  • Verbose Stoic

    For the first case, then can indeed make those sorts of deals … but they only work if the deals are beneficial. There’s a difference between a deal that says “We’ll give you a benefit if you use our products exclusively” and a deal that says “If you don’t use us exclusively, you won’t get to use them at all”. You can compete against the former if you can demonstrate that the deal leaves you worse off than not using competing products, but you can’t compete against the latter if that product is popular.

    In the second case, at least in Canada, regulations are part of the problem that leaves customers with few choices … a situation that’s only recently changing.

  • smrnda

    Rand’s protagonists are built entirely of cardboard, and her antagonists entirely of straw.

  • Dryad

    Now I’m curious–what was the justification given for the proposal? I can picture a Randian villain proposing making all books available for free (she must have really hated libraries) or maybe placing a limit on maximum books published per author (with the rationale of giving struggling authors a chance) but limiting total books isn’t socialistic so much as just weird.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    The scene is a little later than I thought (page 129). Literary critic Balph Eubank says “There should be a law limiting the sale of any book to ten thousand copies. This would throw the literary market open to new talent, fresh ideas and non-commercial writing. If people were forbidden to buy a million copies of the same piece of trash, they would be forced to buy better books.”

    So the actual proposal is a little different than what I had implied — it’s a limit on the number of copies per book published.

  • Jason Wexler

    This is just a hypothesis as I don’t know what Rand’s character may have been thinking, but in the days before e-printing, lots of paper books ended up sitting unread on library and book store shelves (also in many cases the coffee tables of pretentious twits), maybe he was suggesting limiting publication of total number of books for ecological reasons, so to avoid deforestation.

    Or maybe it was just a strawman moment where some idiot shows hes an idiot by making an indefensible stupid comment.

  • smrnda

    I’m thinking more of deals that benefit businesses but not consumers. It’s like hypothetically buying out your competition in a market, and then making deals to prevent new competitors from moving in. Imagine if one cell phone company decided to buy out the towers of another company in a given region, thus reducing your choices in providers. (This is actually a problem in some areas that aren’t well populated.) Or we can go with the Catholic Hospital problem (treating the church as just a businesses) – some people don’t want to be treated by Catholic providers since they won’t get the treatment they want, but Catholic agencies can buy up all the hospitals in a market enough to severely limit consumer choice, though in that one I’m not sure if it’s the almighty $ or ideology that’s driving the purchasing. It’s a great deal for the Catholic agency (bigger market share) and the previous hospital operators might find it beneficial to sell (big payout all at once) but it can end up sucking for the consumers who don’t want their care dictated by Catholic dogma.

    What Canadian regulations of what products? I’m just interested to know.

  • Nonnie

    Totally, it’d be cool if there was one example in the book of what honest failure looks like. Honest, brave, hard-working people make horrible mistakes sometimes.

  • Loren Petrich

    Or else get overwhelmed by circumstances. It does happen.

  • Brian Utterback

    I think you mean psychopath, not psychotic. A psychopath is someone with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse. A psychotic is someone with a loss of contact with reality that usually includes delusions or hallucinations.

  • RayRobertson

    Do people really still follow Rand’s rambling manifestos, and her circular distortions of philosophy?

    Rand is still very influential among some conservative leaders in the U.S.: from Alan Greenspan to Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan and Rand Paul (who was not named after the novelist). Ayn Rand’s words are increasingly used to justify a view of how the U.S. is declining into an “Atlas Shrugged” moment.

    I live in a very red small town within a very red state. Just a few months ago, a letter to the newspaper referenced Rand as supporting his views on why too many Americans were on disability, food stamps, blah, blah, blah.

    So, yes. People still follow Rand, especially those within a party which aligns itself with fundamentalist Christians. Ironic? Tragic? Both?

    An aside: There is a quick reference to a Rand book in 1979′s Being There, a movie which seems to become only more relevant over time.

  • Jason Wexler

    Both tend to be accurate descriptions of Randians though.

  • Lagerbaer

    In the Canadian cell phone market there’s really only very few big players: Rogers, Telus and Bell. Their products are virtually identical and ridiculously overprized. When small competitors appear, they quickly throw together some discounted plans at a loss to drive the competition out of business, and then just as quickly revert the discounted plans to the old overprized ones.

    The problem is that in order to offer cell service in Canada, you must be a Canadian coroporation, so it’s not like Verizon or AT&T or Telekom or whoever could just start offering service in Canada and use THEIR size to compete against the old established companies. This regulation is supposed to protect consumers (from evil foreign cell phone companies, I guess?) but as one can see, it really hurts them.

  • Lagerbaer

    Just have to get a quip in: The reason we no longer climb very well is because as soon as we start climbing things our parents will yell at us. There are videos of toddlers showing amazing ingenuity and intuition with regard to climbing technique that you can find on the interwebs.

  • Dryad

    Huh, that’s actually kind of an interesting proposal–not that I’d ever want to see it implemented, but in a pre-internet world I can kind of see the appeal. Of course the problem is that that anything really good would get snapped up right away as soon as it became popular and most people would be left in the cold. It’s kind of nice that we have the best of both worlds now, where anybody can get their work out there but there’s no limit on how many people can experience it.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    I’m still curious as to whether anyone actually seriously proposed such a thing, or if it’s a typical Rand straw-man.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Lagerbaer got the specific example; I thought that was what it was, but wasn’t really sure.

    The same thing happens with television channels; the CRTC regulates what can be shown and so you can’t have too many American channels and can’t duplicate existing things too much, which stifles competition. Of course, regulations can also force companies to broadcast competing channels, so it isn’t all bad, but there are a lot of cases where regulation stops smaller companies from getting in. In practice, it seems to me that the more regulation you have the harder it will be for small companies since big companies have all the resources to deal with any regulatory hurdles to get what they want while for smaller companies the hurdles, costs and delays are more significant. The only exceptions are regulations aimed at impeded large companies directly, but the fairness of such regulations certainly isn’t clear.

    Now, onto your example. The issue here is that if there was a significant market for alternative services, then in theory the market would provide it. So, if a company bought out the towers and most people didn’t like the deal, a new company could move in and supply the services they want. This works pretty well until you have cases where you need a significant and expensive infrastructure in place to actually provide those services. Small service providers can’t build those towers to provide the services, so only big companies that can afford to put in their own infrastructure can do that. But it’s difficult to see how regulations can help with that. In Canada, there were some regulations that forced a company that held the infrastructure to rent it out at reasonable rates, but again the fairness of this can be questioned since they had to maintain the infrastructure and supply all the bandwidth and even increased bandwidth just so that their competitors could compete with them. This does not seem like something we should be asking a company to do without exceptionally good reason.

    Note that the case in the book is not this sort of case; Dagny was willing to build the competing infrastructure, and the government wasn’t going to let her.

  • Tommykey69

    The Fountainhead is also referenced briefly in the movie Dirty Dancing. A minor character who is a real louse offers to loan his copy to Baby and condenses his interpretation of the book in one sentence, “Some people matter more than others” or something along those lines.

  • smrnda

    Thanks for the info from Canada. I’m not necessarily sure that the US companies would provide better service or prices, mostly since ‘competition’ in the US amounts to about what you’ve described – a few firms offering almost identity shitty products – but this might be a problem inherent with any sort of product that requires massive infrastructure investment.

    On the alternatives this is more to VS) , I’m not always sure that the market even theoretically *will* always provide an alternative product or service to dissatisfied customers – it depends on whether or not someone thinks its profitable and worth doing, though the usual barrier isn’t indifference but infrastructure. I’m worried about the hospital situation in the US since I don’t see any push to build independent, secular hospitals, but if people with $$$ get pissed off enough at the Pope telling them they can’t get birth control and having to travel to get it, then we might get some progress.

    Regulations are a rather tricky thing, mostly since all industries are different and no one set of ideas works for all of them.

  • Jason Wexler

    This is probably not important, but the quality of the service provided by each of the providers is dependent upon the size of the infrastructure and the client base, the smaller the client base the fewer problems a carrier will have call quality. So the smaller providers actually do provide better service, in a demonstrable way as predicted by the physics of telecommunications. As to customer service, that will be dependent upon mostly luck, each of them employs people who don’t want to be there, and occasionally even the best of us has a bad day and you may get such a person when you call. Finally as to price I have all four companies sites open right now and I am stringing along a service agent for each of them about getting plans, and I have found that there is $30 difference for the simplest most basic plans between the four carriers (a 300% difference from the cheapest to most expensive), while the identical “family plans” have a variance of $310 from carrier to carrier a 150% difference from cheapest to most expensive.

    So it does appear that there is some legitimate difference between the companies for similar or identical services and products. Apparently in this one instance the market is working. Oh and checking with FCC data on infrastructure to client base ratio, the cheapest provider also has the best service vis-a-vis the afore mentioned ratio.

  • Jason Wexler

    Wouldn’t state ownership of the infrastructure with a lease option to companies solve this problem?

  • Omnicrom

    Ayn Rand as a planeswalker would be a scary thought. She’d definitely be aligned with Black Mana it represents egoism and Selfishness

    But yeah I think you’ve hit it: Rand’s philosophy only works when isolated from reality. Multiplayer Shooter games have few penalties for taking risks and dying. In an RPG there’s nothing wrong with trying some weird new method of fighting a boss and just reloading if it doesn’t work. In an action game you’re encouraged to retry a segment in all sorts of different ways to find a way through. As you said in Magic if you build up a force of a dozen creatures working for you they’re just pawns to be used and abused however you see fit.

  • Science Avenger

    In Rand’s world, all business transactions unsullied by government involvement are completely voluntary, each person making the best decision for themselves and living with the consequences. Government, by contrast, is not voluntary, but forced upon us. And force of course (as she defines it) is outside the bounds of the game.

  • Science Avenger

    Objectivists do not object to democratic edicts because of the basis of the vote. They object to any vote to take from one and give to another, ie, our entire tax-and-spend structure (with the exception of the courts, police and military who protect our rights). It make no difference to them whether the “mob rule” is based on raw greed or fine metaphysics.

  • Science Avenger

    While we’re nitpicking, we are also superior long distance runners, which was very valuable on early hunts, where we could run otherwise superior beasts to the point of exhaustion and easy capture. Of course, this is far more effective within a coordinating group than among rugged individuals…

  • Science Avenger

    Among the many economic realities Objectivists ignore, barriers to entry in a market dominated by an effective monopoly sits high on the list. She speaks as if no matter what the conditions, a superior man with a superior idea can jump right in there and compete with the big boys.

  • smrnda

    The problem is that in the end, taking *my money* to protect *their property* is still confiscating my wealth for their own gain. Plus, exactly where does property come from? Why do so many white people descended from Europeans have property in this country? If theft is bad, it seems like it only becomes bad *at some point.*

  • smrnda

    The problem is that if the disparity between two people is great enough, there’s no such thing as ‘voluntary’ as some people won’t survive unless they accept the conditions imposed on them by others.

    On government, if you get a say it’s hardly the same as a dictatorship. I mean, it isn’t perfectly responsive to our demands, but to say that all government is equally raw force is failing to distinguish between a totalitarian state and a democratic republic.

  • David Simon

    So the smaller providers actually do provide better service, in a demonstrable way as predicted by the physics of telecommunications.

    This doesn’t appear to be obviously true. Why is Tower A ran by Company A and Tower B ran by Company B better, service-quality-wise, than Company A running both towers? The hardware would be identical.

  • Jason Wexler

    It’s not about the tower, it’s about how much of the available bandwidth is being drawn upon. Increasing infrastructure can of course defeat the advantage of a smaller customer base.

  • Science Avenger

    To your first point, the Objectivist response would be that yes, taking your money for the courts, police, and military is still taking your money, but it is for the rightful functions of government: defending out rights. The same cannot be said of welfare (always the easy target) because one does not have a right to food. It is also worth noting that Rand was not in favor of confiscatory taxes at all, although her counter proposals for government funding were less than developed (a lottery was one suggestion). She “blanked out”, if you will, on the subject, saying it would be left to philosophers of government, which was a long-winded way of saying she had failed to solve a problem that remains unsolved to this day.
    To your second point, property comes from the creative minds of the movers, says the Objectivist, which was mostly the whites from glorious Europe, as opposed to the savages (I think Rand actually used this word) from Africa and the American natives. Ans since the whites were the brains, and the others were the brawn, you can imagine who Rand thinks deserves the wealth.
    And yes, no libertarian/Objectivist IMO has come up with a satisfactory solution to the problem of historical theft while staying within the bounds of their philosophy. So they do with that what they do with the systemic advantages of the Mitt Romney’s over the Joe the Piumbers and simply ignore it. Rand believed we were born tabula rasa, both in mind and wealth. ***Spoiler Alert: John Galt IIRC was the only major character in the book who came from humble beginnings, and in typical Randian fashion, she gives us no clue how he rose to his fame. I suspect it was too difficult to write a believable back story within the framework of her ideology.

  • Science Avenger

    Exactly on your first point. One noteable trait of libertarians/Objectivists is their total obliviousness to emergent properties due to scale differences of orders of magnitude. If more of something is good, then a lot more is ALWAYS going to be even better. Likewise, they understood that a rich man has a negotiating advantage over a poor one, but aside from believing he deserved it, they ignore that at some point, like when the poor man’s family no longer has enough food to eat, its no longer a voluntary transaction. Twain would have reminded Rand “morals have force only when one is well fed”.
    To understand Rand’s view of government, one must always keep in mind that the only social structure she recognized was the individual. From that perspective, a democratic government voting to take away your money in taxes to feed a poor man is exactly the same as a dictator doing it, or the poor man himself with a gun. You have effectively no say. The notion that in a democracy you can attempt to persuade others that such is wrong, and garner support to change the policy doesn’t exist. She saw the majority as “takers”.

  • smrnda

    I thought that aside from Galt that the Reardon guy started out working in a mine at like 14? Again, there was no actual explanation of how he got ahead either, just a flash-back flash forward.

    On a ‘right’ to resources, something which I tend to think about is that people who already own property control resource allocation. We all need food, but only certain people control arable land, so, in a sense, we’re all forced to accept conditions from these people whether we want to or not. Rand seems to have a very simplistic view of how anything is produced, where all it takes is a genius in the right place and acquiring the raw materials is never an issue. I’m suspecting this is because she didn’t really have any business experience. She never produced anything but badly written books, so she takes the book model and imagines you produce steel the same way.

    Yeah, they do seem to either hand-wave problems away, or else refer you to some next session.

  • smrnda

    I love the Twain quote.

    On Rand and ‘the individual’ – I think this goes back to the fact that she never really worked in her entire life. I think she made wardrobe choices for some movies, but overall her work experience was pretty limited. Nothing is produced by any lone individual. Looking at ‘the individual’ misses a lot about what’s going on in terms of social organization. I mean, a worker at a large company is doing necessary work, but the # of people who make decisions on where the money goes is a small group who often do nothing but decide to put most of the money in their pockets.

    Overall, I can’t get why Rand has such influence. She never really studied economics, sociology, or anything really (she read Nietzsche and that seems to be about it.) She never ran a businesses (even more important.)

    Yeah, I think Rand’s deal is that she was an ignoramus who thought she knew more than she did.

  • David Simon

    Why is the amount of bandwidth different between the two situations?

  • Jason Wexler

    The difference, is in the amount of bandwidth BEING DRAWN UPON (not shouting just emphasizing the important clause). Because of how “Ma Bell” was broken up in the 80′s the different telecoms all have about the same amount of infrastructure (towers), which means that if you have fewer customers, you have fewer people seeking to use the same resources, and thus your infrastructure isn’t overloaded and your product or service in this case will be better. Verizon and AT&T each have about 3 and half times the customer base of T-Mobile but only about 30% more infrastructure, which means they have more dropped calls and other forms of call interruption.

  • David Simon

    Okay, that makes sense, thanks. I do wish you would’ve just said this in the beginning, though; I was confused because you phrased it earlier as a theoretical principle, rather than a consequence of the uneven way that our specific arrangement developed.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Then you won’t have competition; there’s no reason for the state to build multiple infrastructures and no reason for them to lease it to more than one person. It might work for cell phones/telecommunications, but for things like hospitals it clearly won’t.

  • ZMiles

    Eubank’s books are said to have never sold more than 3,000 copies. It’s implied that Eubank wants this because preventing others from selling more than him prevents them from outperforming him; he won’t be losing (in competition/market share) if all others are held back to his level.

    Later on, the baddies propose a law that will ban all new books. Eubank is behind this, because another law will (I think) require that people still buy the same number of books as they did in the preceding year, but with no new ones, they’ll need to buy old ones… like Eubank’s.

    It doesn’t make much sense.

  • J-D

    Hobbes is so far from being an advocate of limited government that he denies the coherence of the concept. For Hobbes, if it’s limited it can’t really be a government and if it’s a government it can’t really be limited.

  • smrnda

    It’s a straw-caricature of an inferior producer using the state to subvert the market in his interest.

  • TBP100

    I think having a safety net actually encourages creative thinking and entrepreneurship. It’s a lot easier to quit your job to try to open a new business, or finish that software you’ve been tinkering with for years, if you know you aren’t going to lose access to health care for yourself and your family, or that if it’s a total bust you still won’t starve. Self-employeed people and freelancers of any kind in the US are taking huge risks (unless they have a spouse with health insurance) that they just don’t have to in Europe. I have friends in Germany, a pianist married to a composer. They do the occasional master class or short course, but don’t have full-time teaching positions or other jobs; they make most of their living from their art. They’ve had some lean years, but told me one of the things that made it possible was the universal health care in Germany, especially once they had a child. And of course, most European countries have government retirement plans not subject to the vagaries of the market or the good will of their employers. Yes, taxes are high in these countries, but the level of security provided strikes me as well worth it. You don’t see a lot of immigration to the US from these “socialist hellholes,” either.

  • smrnda

    This was actually a significant problem for me, as I have really serious health conditions and can’t afford to risk not having good insurance. The only way I was able to work with a start-up was to use personal connections to get a ‘visiting researcher’ position at a university so I’d have health care.

    The problem is that it takes away from the new business, and it requires that I work what’s really a dull, mundane job that someone with a lot less experience should be doing to build their resume.

    My business partners area mostly Europeans and Israelis so this kind of problem was shocking and surprising to them. It definitely blows the idea that a welfare state is bad for business out of the water. I’m actually considering emigrating elsewhere just since this isn’t something I want to be doing long-term.

  • The Classical Liberal

    There were numerous. Example the “bum” on the train.

  • Adam Lee

    I disagree. He didn’t try his hardest and fail, he lost his job because his factory was taken over by communists. No true capitalist ever fails in Atlas as a result of his own poor decisions, only as a result of interference by evil socialists.

  • The Classical Liberal

    No. He was a worker who was convinced by others that the socialist dream of equality of outcome would produce a beautiful society. He voted for it.

    Re: true capitalists failing (I suppose you mean business owners) she didn’t get into it but it was understood (by me and other free-market capitalists) that some failed.

    This was a work of philosophical fiction – not every scenario is brought forward. Works of art highlight the key points and leave other points unstated.

  • Don Sakers

    > Her attitude is like the law of the jungle personified.

    Nail on the head again.

    In other works, particularly The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand bases Objectivism squarely on the “fact” of a particularly perverted reading of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” — the whole “Social Darwinist” thing that the political right loves to prattle about (while they deny Darwin out of the other side of their mouths, to please their superstitious voters).

    This is Objectivism’s “A is A,” the central postulate, and it IS the law of the jungle red in tooth and claw: Brutal competition to the death is the way the breed improves.

    Try suggesting to Randites that evolution proceeds as much (or more) by cooperation as by competition, and see the hostile reaction you get.