Atlas Shrugged: Bonsai People

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter X

Although Hank is back at his mills, Dagny hasn’t given up searching for the inventor of the motor. Her latest clue takes her to Oregon, where she’s looking for Lee Hunsacker, the president of a shell company that owned the Twentieth Century Motor Company when the Community National Bank of Madison made the loan that failed and resulted in the collapse of both bank and factory. Dagny finds him living in poverty in a filthy hovel:

“I never had a chance!” said Lee Hunsacker.

He sat in the middle of the kitchen, at a table cluttered with papers. He needed a shave; his shirt needed laundering. It was hard to judge his age: the swollen flesh of his face looked smooth and blank, untouched by experience; the graying hair and filmy eyes looked worn by exhaustion; he was forty-two. [p.292]

As always, Randian villains are rotund, fleshy and unattractive, whereas her heroes are a sexy collection of planes and acute angles. (I sometimes wonder if Rand had some kind of geometry fetish.)

Hunsacker took over the factory after it collapsed due to the mismanagement of Jed Starnes’ heirs (about which more later), scraping up some money together with his friends to buy the property. He was excited to run the factory, calling it “the kind of opportunity I was entitled to” [p.294], but when he applied for several additional loans, he was turned down flat. The factory failed soon afterward, which Hunsacker is extremely bitter about, calling the bankers who refused him “greedy, entrenched vultures of privilege”:

“How were we to succeed in life if nobody would give us a factory? We couldn’t compete against the little snots who inherit whole chains of factories, could we? Weren’t we entitled to the same break?” [p.294]

Dagny presses him about whether he knew any of the engineers, but he’s uninterested in talking about anything except how unfair his life is and how nothing that went wrong was his fault:

“I didn’t have much money to spend on such things as laboratories, when I never had enough funds to give me a breathing spell. I couldn’t even pay the bills I owed for the absolutely essential modernizing and redecorating which I’d had to do – that factory was disgracefully old-fashioned from the standpoint of human efficiency. The executive offices had bare plaster walls and a dinky little washroom. Any modern psychologist will tell you that nobody could do his best in such depressing surroundings… Furthermore, I spent a lot of money on a new cafeteria and a playroom and rest room for the workers. We had to have morale, didn’t we?” [p.298]

As we’ve already seen, in Rand’s ontology, there’s no such thing as people who have the potential to succeed but lack the resources to make it happen. In her view, individual talent and ambition will always reveal itself; people who deserve to be rich will succeed regardless of whether they come from humble backgrounds or ultra-wealthy lineages, and people who deserve to be poor will fail no matter how much help they’re given. Either way, help from others is unnecessary at best, delaying the inevitable at worst.

But that neat, ideologically satisfying conclusion is set within the world of this book, where Rand can script events so that everything turns out the way her political theories predict. Reality, as is usually the case, tends to be messier and less amenable to tidy philosophical explanations.

Conservatives like Rand imagine that the way to create a meritocracy is to terminate all government assistance and intervention, and then the talented, like cream, will naturally rise to the top. Based on natural experiments along these lines, what actually happens is that people born into wealth and privilege tend to become rich themselves, while people born into poverty tend to stay in poverty. And that’s no surprise, since the children of privilege have countless advantages. They can attend an elite college or buy a home without taking on crippling debt; they can weather a job loss or a health crisis without becoming destitute; they’re more likely to have family connections who can help them find employment; and so on and so on. (Suggest your own examples of this privilege in the comments.)

The numbers bear this out. The U.S., whose social welfare programs are threadbare compared to most European countries, also has significantly lower rates of social mobility (again, see also). Ironically, for all our praise of capitalism and our national image as a land of boundless opportunity, our society in practice is becoming more and more like a hereditary class system, where your lot in life is largely determined by the income of your parents. Even Forbes magazine, no bastion of socialism, has noted this worrying trend.

What we liberals advocate, as a means of reversing this slide, is a society that guarantees equality of opportunity: one where everyone has access to the basic prerequisites of success, so that whatever talent they possess has a chance to flourish, and no one is held back by accidents of circumstance like being born to a poor family or living in a bad neighborhood. Among these basic prerequisites are things like free and equitably funded public schools; access to affordable health care; and anti-discrimination laws so that no one is held back by barriers of prejudice. This is just what I said in my “Why I Am Not a Libertarian” series.

Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning founder of Grameen Bank, has called the world’s poorest “bonsai people” – in reference to the fact that bonsai trees are the same species as regular trees. Their dwarfism isn’t because they have different genes, but because the way they’re potted constrains their growth. Human society works the same way. Not everyone has the same talent or ambition, but any halfway realistic view of human nature must admit that there’s immense talent latent in the world’s billions of poor people, bottled up by chronic lack of opportunity, but ready to be unleashed if given the right assistance. The truest kind of meritocracy is the one that recognizes this and guarantees all its people an equal chance to achieve their greatness.

Other posts in this series:

What’s Behind the Appeal of ISIS?
Atlas Shrugged: Hobo Sign
The Rebirth of Nullification in Alabama
Atlas Shrugged: Objectivist Mating Rituals
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • ParanoidMarvin

    Unpaid internships.

    Unless you are of at least comfortably middle class background, unpaid internships are not really an option. But if your parents can afford for you to take an unpaid internship, it is the proverbial “foot in the door” both at that company and in terms of experience.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    Lee Hunsicker is another straw man, this time very obviously. He’s entitled to a factory? Good grief, no one talks like this!

    I kinda remember Brandon saying that he especially liked Rand’s essay in TVOS about racism being the lowest form of collectivism, but that Rand herself was lukewarm. Maybe she halfway realized that racisim can, indeed, establish barriers to the “cream rising to the top,” but it doesn’t require government action to do so.

  • Chip

    I’m particularly impressed that amongst the sins that doomed Hunsicker to failure were his attempts to make the work environment more pleasant for the employees. “He didn’t treat his workers like livestock! No wonder he went broke!”

  • Sneezeguard

    Privelage and wealth help people in getting through legal troubles.
    This affects both the guilty and the innocent. While much is often made of the fact that the elite will not do jail time for things like drug possession, there’s also the fact that the poor have less opportunity to utilize the protections of the legal system against being mistreated.
    It’s far harder for a poor person to sue someone who has taken advantage of them than for a rich person to.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    In terms of education, a person from a wealthier background are likelier to benefit from a more stable home environment, proper nutrition and academic help outside of school in the form of better educated parents and/ or private tutors if they need it. They also have further opportunities for education outside of school since their parents can sometimes afford to work less hours, freeing them to take the children to museums or on trips where they experience other cultures.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    His face was “smooth and blank,” but he needed a shave? Is there no consistency even from one sentence to the next?

  • Gideon

    My personal background was only lower middle class, but in retrospect I still benefited due to simple home stability. I had two caring parents, in a close relationship, with steady employment, who didn’t make terrible or selfish decisions. Near the poverty level and below, few can say the same.

  • Azkyroth

    (Suggest your own examples of this privilege in the comments.)

    They grew up familiar with mannerisms, clothing choices, and turns of phrase that are, or derive from and have fallen near the tree of, Moneyed Class signifiers – and can afford to display them. This one is especially pernicious and persistent; even otherwise intelligent, progressive people will often uncritically swallow and regurgitate the idea that, for instance, wearing a suit, not using “vulgar” (IE, “commoner”) language, or “dressing nicely” (“nicely” defined as “consistent with upper-middle class pseudo-formal norms) says something positive about your character.

  • Nancy McClernan

    That’s what happens when you refuse to have an editor.

  • Azkyroth

    Hell, even just having the general awareness/sense that authority figures and government employees could, in principle, have the function of helping you is kind of a middle-class-and-up privilege. I had a couple good links about this a while ago…

  • Jackson

    One major advantage the children of the wealthy have is the ability to take an unpaid internship at the beginning of a career, allowing them to gain experience and connections in the field. Heck, doing an internship first is often an unspoken requirement of getting an actual job in the future. The poor can’t afford to work for free.

  • decathelite

    Travel and job relocation.

    If you’re poor you haven’t seen much of the world. Sure, there was those couple of times you all piled in a car to see your in laws on the other side of the country, but trying to organize that was hard – you had to take time off work, and you had to pile everyone in motel rooms for the 2 or 3 days each way of travelling, and be in constant anxiety that your Ford POS wouldn’t break down.

    But if you get offered a job in another state? you have near zero liquid assets to finance the move which will at least require you to put a deposit on an apartment near the new job.

  • X. Randroid

    Not to mention that they have parents with connections that can make internships possible. For instance, a partner at my law firm proposed offering unpaid internships at the firm to children of firm clients, as a way of building goodwill. (The firm’s clients are, of course, corporations, and although they are allegedly people, corporations are incapable of producing children.) So by “children of firm clients,” of course, he meant the offspring of occupants of the C-suite.

    It’s far from the only time I’ve seen partners try to put a thumb on the hiring scales in the name of “good client relations.” Most of them don’t even think of it as perpetuating a privileged class. That doesn’t mean it isn’t.

  • X. Randroid

    This one rankles me on several levels. In addition to the obvious fact that poor young people can’t work for free, there’s something wrong about a for-profit enterprise basically stealing labor under the guise that “we’re giving you valuable experience so we don’t need to pay you.”

    There’s an arguable case for unpaid interns in the context of an educational program (e.g., some engineering programs I recall) where they at least get college credit for it. Although even then, I’m inclined to think that if the employee is adding dollars to the bottom line, the employee should get paid in dollars.

  • X. Randroid

    I have always wondered if Lee Hunsacker was intentional caricature on Rand’s part. His total lack of self-awareness is through the roof, even by her standards. I cannot read this scene without laughing out loud.

    Hunsacker whines about not being able to compete with Nielsen (never mind that he knew he needed a better motor but still spent $0 on R&D) and about how nobody “gave” him a better motor (when there apparently was one sitting in his lab the whole time, just waiting for someone to notice). He whines about how his hosts (who aren’t even charging him rent) demand so much of him (because they asked him to stir the stew now and then), and he whines about how they just sit around all day in their store (while he just sits around all day at their house … doing nothing).

    The problem with the “intentional caricature” theory is that the rest of Rand’s characters are so poorly drawn that it’s impossible to tell.

  • Jason Wexler

    For all of the obvious problems with Hunsacker as a caricature of “socialist entitlement” he does raise several very important and good points which I don’t think Rand recognized, apparently another instance of Strawman has a point. Even if one isn’t entitled, how does one compete in the closed competition of old money companies? It’s one thing to “innovate” and create a wholly new product, but starting a new company in an existing market is rather difficult if not impossible. How many movie studios don’t have starts between 1914 and 1922, other than vanity endeavors by actor come producer celebrities, who only use the company to get an additional credit on a film? I believe all of the currently extant American auto manufacturers were founded by 1925; and aren’t all of the home goods manufacturers (GE and Black & Decker etc…), companies that got their starts in the 1870′s and 1880′s? If it were possible to compete in an ossified environment I think there would be new studios every so often and new auto manufacturers etc.. every so often. So what’s Rands excuse this time for how it’s government that somehow causes industry collusion which prevents real open competition?

  • smrnda

    The problem is if you can justify paying someone nothing because they *lack experience* the goalposts can always be moved, and then you say ‘well, until you have a year of experience we can’t pay you’ and then later, the period jumps up to 2 years.

    An argument firms make is that sometimes, it costs a lot to train someone and the new person isn’t that productive, but that’s kind of the idea with an internship – the company has sunk money into the intern, so it’s in their interests to offer them a job later.

  • smrnda

    This can be true in many ways. My father is an AI researcher, so I learned how to program at a young age and was way, way ahead in mathematics. So even for less than epic levels of privilege you can still end up in a position of incredible advantage.

    I mean, there are people who decide to major in computer science in college who have no programing experience. People like that often get overwhelmed since the privileged kids *do* have that experience, so they end up dropping out, and so the privileged kids get the prestigious degree.

  • smrnda

    “Any modern psychologist will tell you that nobody could do his best in such depressing surroundings.”

    Rand seems to be pretty dismissive of psychology, which I find tends to be par for the course with totalitarian ideologies that demand rigid adherence to ideological purity, most likely since these ideologies are built on assumptions about human nature that must be accepted as absolutely true, and the empirical discipline of psychology might disprove those assumptions, and then the whole ideology crumbles.

    There are findings about what types of surroundings affect job performance, and there’s actually a decent amount of research in cognitive psychology that attempting to work super-long marathon sessions doesn’t result in greater productivity in many types of work, particularly work that involves thinking. If Rand had encountered any such research, she would have to dismiss it since it goes against her total faith in human willpower.

  • Marty

    Even more basic things can be a huge advantage – My partner and I were living on welfare (Centrelink here in Aus), and moving round a huge amount – we had parents who had the time, space and money to help us move, to store furniture so we didn’t have to sell/ dispose of it and buy new stuff, and to generally help out in tons of tiny ways that made life easier and way cheaper for us

  • duke_of_omnium

    Just to play devil’s advocate, are these enterprises really stealing *labor*? Are they actually getting any useful (i.e., profitable) work from their interns?

    If not, I think that they can legitimately justify not paying interns. And yes, I realize that that policy does perpetuate or extend the privilege gap.

  • Adam Lee

    Technically, according to the law, an internship is supposed to be an educational experience that’s purely for the sake of the intern; it should confer no benefit on the employer. But it’s been clear for a while that all kinds of companies are flouting that law.

  • duke_of_omnium

    When “intern” is a euphemism for “file clerk” (there’s a term that shows my age!) or “admin assistant” then yes, they are certainly being exploited. If, however, the interns are doing no more serious work than ogling the CFO’s 24-year-old secretary (who is also his mistress – they’d better be careful!) while learning about how Corundum Industries performs quarterly inventory reports, then a) Corundum is not directly benefiting from the interns; and b) the interns are getting valuable experience to put on their resumes.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And don’t forget the best part – he can’t even make dinner without burning it:

    The last sight she caught of Lee Hunsacker, as she turned to go, was his sudden leap to the stove; he seized the lid off the pot and dropped it to the floor, scorching his fingers and cursing: the stew was burned.

  • Azkyroth

    I can’t help thinking there might be information available to answer this question online somewhere….

  • smrnda

    Your comment betrays a shocking ignorance of actual work settings. If you can find any such instance in real life, please refer them to me, but companies don’t typically take on warm bodies.

    Another issue is that if a company hires an intern and doesn’t assign any work, the fault is entirely that of the company. If I hire a programmer and agree to pay a salary and I actually don’t ask the person to do anything and the ‘programmer’ sits around and surfs the web all day, I would be 100% to blame for not assigning work. If you hire an intern, it is the job of the company to provide work assignments.

  • smrnda

    Moving can be a huge expense, and I’ve known a few people who either could not drive or who could not afford cars who lost lots of $ for moves since they couldn’t move items like furniture.

  • duke_of_omnium

    I’ve seen a few internships that were sinecures. Especially for unpaid interns. If they’re not getting paid (and not getting benefits), it doesn’t cost the company very much (what does a customized binder go for? And the occasional free lunch?)

    And there is a benefit for these companies: they get to evaluate the deadwood, and down the road, when this deadwood get their BA’s and MBA’s (and become useful), they’ll think of Corundum fondly when considering job offers.

  • smrnda

    I’d have to look into film; I think there are some newer firms, but I also don’t know how much market share they really have, and sometimes they are just in house labels used by bigger names to get some indie cred.

    Another issue is that new, smaller firms, if they show promise, are often bought up by larger, already successful businesses. Seriously, the hard liquor market is dominated by a few big players who own most of the brands out there where the big players like diageo in the UK own a lot of other brands, so even in areas where you think there are more players, it’s really just one big brand. Diageo has both Johnny Walker and Bushmills, if I recall, and who knows how many other lesser known labels.

  • smrnda

    I don’t exactly recall Rand courting any non-white followers though, so if she had a problem with racism, it wasn’t one she really seemed to give a shit about. She might say she resents racism, but seriously, her books contain almost no non-white characters.

    Government action is needed to fight racism since racist people tend to use the government to discriminate – legal slavery for Black people set an entire group back significantly in terms of economic mobility.

  • X. Randroid

    Pretty funny, but actually, my favorite line is this:

    “We never had a motor factory before. We had to let the tools of production condition our minds, didn’t we?”

    I love how Hunsacker wildly misinterprets Marx’s well-known assertion that “the tools of production condition our minds” as meaning that if you just spend enough time hanging around a motor factory, you’ll know how to operate one. It’s such a blatant misrepresentation of what Marx was talking about … if it were anyone but Rand, I’d be sure it was intended satirically.

  • Jason Wexler

    Many of those newer small firms with no market share you mention are what I called “vanity endeavors”. They aren’t so much studios or companies or anything really, but a legal fiction made out of a movie star… so like Brad Pitt has one of these companies and it doesn’t do anything or employ anyone it’s just a corporate name for Brad Pitt to use so he can get some additional credits as a producer or financier or some such and lots of movie and music stars have these shell corporations so they can buy into revenue stream of the movie beyond their paycheck and royalties. They do put a little bit of their own capitol through the company as an investment into the films or album or what have you as well. It’s also part of the way that they can minimize their taxes so that they aren’t people they are businesses this was something I learned from an economist I worked for many years ago, who taught all of his neighbors and friends and employees to incorporate in the same way so they could take advantage of the same tax advantages.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Thanks – I missed that Marx reference. Here I thought her only direct reference was “from each according to his ability…”

    I really can’t tell if Rand is deliberately misrepresenting Marx or if she was so literal-minded she couldn’t get the meaning.

    A big fan of Rand, writing for The Atlasphere, says:

    My lesson is different. Rand, like myself, was a very literal-minded person…

    A review of “Objectively Speaking”

    Given her reputation as an obdurate, sometimes contemptuous character, it is interesting to see that in sympathetic company she comes across as rather endearing, albeit literal-minded and not possessed of much sense of humor

    From the Heller bio:

    A few months before Atlas Shrugged was published, Bennett Cerf invited his “most interesting” new author to address a Random House sales conference. She stood at the head of the room and talked at length about the characters and meaning of her novel. When she finished, one salesman, still puzzled as to how to explain the book to book store owners, asked half-jokingly, “Miss Rand, could you give the essence of your philosophy while standing on one foot?” …She gamely raised a leg and answered, “Metaphysics: objective reality. Epistemology: reason. Ethics: self-interest. Politics: capitalism.”

    From Ayn Rand Fun Facts:

    An acquaintance, to Rand: “Two fellows were sitting down at the end of [a] bar. And one said, ‘My God, you see those two women coming across the street? One’s my wife and the other is my mistress.’ The other guy said, ‘You took the words right out of my mouth!’”

    Rand: “What an extraordinary coincidence.”

  • X. Randroid

    Rand had to be dismissive of psychology. She couldn’t stomach the thought that there could be anything going on in her head that was not subject to her conscious, rational control; that would render her moral ideal of “unbreached rationality” unattainable. So she reduced the human mind to the conscious part and a “subconscious” that is more or less just a computer that gets programmed by the conscious (either deliberately or haphazardly, depending on one’s conscious choices over time) to generate various emotions and associations.

    Psychology disagreed, so psychology had to go.

    In the 1950s and 60s, Nathaniel Branden (at the time Rand’s most loyal disciple, also her lover) tried to reinvent psychology and psychotherapy based on Rand’s theories. It didn’t work (as he admitted years later) and in fact did a lot of harm. That effort seems to have been largely abandoned, and most Objectivist psychologists I know of just use cognitive-therapy techniques rather than anything distinctively Objectivist.

  • Adam Lee

    One of the saddest consequences of this, as I read in the biographies I consulted for these posts, is how confused and dismayed Rand was when her husband, Frank, started suffering from dementia late in his life.

    She seemed to believe that she could train his mind to work again, as if dementia could be overcome by a sufficient effort of will. She even tried giving him regular tests and quizzes. Naturally, it only made things worse for both of them.

  • Nancy McClernan
  • X. Randroid

    Indeed. Among many realities Rand manages to ignore is this problem of barriers to entry.

    For instance, consider the improbable career of Hank Rearden. We’re told in Chapter II that Hank Rearden starts working in an iron mine at 14, and after 16 years and a succession of nondescript jobs in mining and steelmaking, he buys the mine. Now, a low-end price for an iron mine (circa 2012) is apparently around $15M. As a typical rank-and-file worker making something like $26/hour (average pay for a mineworker in 2012), how did Rearden come up with $15M … or even enough of a downpayment on $15M to get a mortgage on the rest? Rand gives us no clue.

    We are told (in the very scene Adam is discussing) that Midas Mulligan helped him buy the steel mills, which came after he bought the mine, and also (in Chapter VIII) that Rearden has no shareholders. (Which, by the way, implies that Mulligan, the financial genius, brilliantly failed to insist on equity in Rearden Steel … odd, since he could have make way more on an equity investment than on a loan. Some genius.)

    The same issue arises in Chapter IX, where Rearden is looking at an allegedly exhausted mine, which he decides is not exhausted after all.

    “If I could find the right man, I’d buy that mine for him tomorrow morning and set him up to work it.”

    The next day …, he said suddenly, after a long silence, “No, I’ll have to wait till they junk the Bill. The man who could work that mine wouldn’t need me to teach him. The man who’d need me, wouldn’t be worth a damn.”

    What about the possibility of a man with the brains to work the mine but not the money to buy it? Never even considered. Because in Rand-land, if you’re a good guy, barriers to entry just melt away in front of you. If you’re a bad guy, the need to get out of bed in the morning is an insuperable barrier.

  • X. Randroid

    Now that you mention it, the only non-whites I can recall meeting (or even seeing) at Objectivist events were Indian immigrants, generally young and disillusioned by India’s version of socialism.

    As for Rand, despite denouncing racism as “the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism” in the VOS essay David mentions, she sure unleashed a metric shit-ton of hate on Native Americans. Among other gems: “We owe nothing to the Indians, except the memory of monstrous evils done by them.” (Quoted in Ayn Rand Answers, from a Q&A at Ford Hall Forum.) I won’t quote her at length, but what it comes down to is that she had no problem with European settlers practicing genocide against the Native Americans … because the Europeans understood property rights and the Natives didn’t.

  • Cactus_Wren

    Well, if setting up headquarters in “two rooms on the ground floor of a half-collapsed structure” whose “upper stories {are} boarded off as unsafe” is good enough for Dagny (, why should Hunsicker demand better for his employees?

  • David Andrew Kearney

    Here’s the passage I recalled from Judgment Day (pg 335):

    “She included her essay on racism, a piece I had suggested for the newsletter, against her initial reluctance. “Of course, racism is evil, but the leftists have made it their issue,” she had protested.”

    This is more damning than I had originally thought. She had been lukewarm about writing the piece in the first place. Of course Brandon may have had his own ax to grind.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    I agree. What I had meant in my first post was that racism doesn’t require the action of the state to be discriminatory. Most of the “evils” that Rand wants to attack, like regulation or taxation, require the government to “put a gun to your head” through the force of law. She has a hard time with evils that don’t easily fit into the “state = bad” equation.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    It’s interesting that you’ve mentioned “Bonsai people,” since Rand has a similar critique of modern education in “The Comprachicos” from The New Left compilation. Sadly I don’t have a copy handy, but IIRC she starts off quoting Victor Hugo’s description of the comprachicos practice of putting young children in pots designed to deform them as they grow. She goes on to say that modern education results in creating “Comprachicos of the mind.”

  • Nancy McClernan

    And the ARI was still promoting that view as of 2005.

    But to be accurate her attitude wasn’t based on ethnicity it was based on the “primitive” nature of NA culture. I’m sure she would have supported the conquest of any more technologically advanced society over a lesser technologically advanced society.

    She has very egalitarian in that way.

  • smrnda

    I’ve read that Rand argued that if you think it’s wrong for white people to kill Native Americans you’re a *racist* because you think people deserve land just because they were there first.

  • smrnda

    Yeah, people forget that racism exists in the State because it exists in people first.

  • smrnda

    Wow, someone without a degree is ‘deadwood’ and MBAs make you useful. You certainly have a *great attitude* and I recognize you as a *true font of wisdom.*

  • smrnda

    I had to add, this sounds almost exactly like Scientology to me. Are there any known crossovers between the two? It just seems that both rely on denying a lot about what is known about psychology and neuroscience.

  • duke_of_omnium

    If they have sinecures, as they do by hypothesis, then they are deadwood. Do try to keep up. Better still, let the grownups talk.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I had assumed it was meant sarcastically.

  • J-D

    In a hypothetical world with people divided into those with natural ability who inevitably succeed regardless and those lacking natural ability who inevitably fail regardless, nothing government could do could change that, by definition. So that can’t be what Ayn Rand is writing about. The scenario she’s writing about is one where the natural tendency in the absence of outside interference is for the talented to succeed and the untalented to fail, but government interference can obstruct that natural tendency. Specifically, she’s writing about the scenario where the talented people wise up and turn the tables, bringing ruin to the obstructors and restoring the natural order. That is to say, the smart people _finally_ wise up, and I emphasise that word ‘finally’ to lead up to the question: if the smart people are so smart, how have so many centuries gone by without their wising up?

  • Snoof

    Because capitalism and nihilism had to be invented first, to give a proper philiosophical foundation.

    no, that can’t be right. That would imply that people are shaped by
    their environments and limited by the knowledge available to them via
    culture, rather than perfectly rational blank slates who can deduce
    anything from fundamental principles. And that’s
    obviously can’t be right. :rolleyes:

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Plenty of Rand’s characters are intentional caricatures. This is no surprise.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Which ones?

  • Enopoletus Harding

    I’m pretty sure Balph Eubank and Ivy Starnes are two.

  • Nancy McClernan

    What about James Taggart, Lillian Rearden, Floyd Ferris, Wesley Mouch, Kip Chalmers, Orrin Boyle? If you don’t count them, why not?

  • Pierre Cloutier

    Actually in many respects Rand’s attitude positively reeked of Stalinism. Basically according to Rand the Native Americans were3 using the land wrongly, i.e., not developing it in a proper Capitalist / industrial manner so that it was right and proper to take the land from them and develop it “properly”. Thus the property rights of the Native Americans were abrogated and denied because they weren’t using the land in the proper manner and had failed to be “properly” progressive. Thus property rights are subjected to the demand that they serve “proper” ends, and like a Stalinist Rand had no problem with violent coercion if it led to “proper” and “progressive” development. So much for being able to dispose of property anyway you see fit.
    The other thing is Rand’s comments reek of sheer ignorance. Rand had no awareness that most native Americans did in fact have “property rights”, most of them in the form of user rights to land etc.. Also Rand seem to think that Native Americans before the Europeans came were nomads / hunter gatherers. That is not true most of the Native Americans in the lower 48 states were agriculturalists at the time the Europeans came. Rand said other bon mots which display her utter ignorance about Native Americans and early American history, but it didn’t stop her from pontificating about a subject she was utterly clueless about.
    My “favorite” bit from Rand about this is her nonsense about Indians being under the total authority of their autocratic Chiefs when the Europeans came. Rand didn’t have a clue about how a Chiefdom works and was clearly not interested in anything to rectify that.

  • UnsaltedSinner

    So the wealthy heiress Dagny Taggart looks down on this guy because he felt entitled to a factory? Hmmm…

  • smrnda

    Grownup? I’ve been working, for pay, since I was 15 as a software developer. I also have hired interns and I do have a business to help run, so I’m not engaging in armchair speculation.

    Great, then are you serious that a period of unpaid labor or unpaid training, which is obviously accessible only to the affluent, is a great idea? Or what are you suggesting

    As someone who is exactly the type of person who cashes in on the current unfair system, I have an obligation to see it change.

  • X. Randroid

    Interesting parallel to Stalin; I hadn’t thought of that at all.

    Stalin, of course, had the advantage of being openly collectivist in outlook, so at least his position is internally consistent. I think Rand fails there. Her position amounts to a collective judgment against an entire people. It was morally fine and dandy for European colonists to slaughter any Native American individuals who got in their way (unless said individuals repented and became “Westernized”) but not okay for Native Americans to resist. Similarly, she held that a free, or even semi-free, country (such as the US) had the moral right to kill anyone and everyone who had the misfortune to live in a dictatorship (such as the USSR), if the free country chose to put an end to the dictatorship.

    Strange position for a supporter of individual rights to hold: You have an inalienable right to life, but only if you live in a proper sort of society that respects your rights (as Rand defines them). If your government doesn’t respect your rights, then Rand doesn’t have to either.

  • unbound55

    This seems to be a bit of framing or poisoning the well reasoning.

    While it is certainly likely that there are at least some corporations that actually train their interns without any work being provided back to them, based on my own observations of interns as well as how corporations work in general, I don’t see how this condition could even remotely be in the simple majority of cases.

    What I have witnessed in the two internship programs I’ve seen is that they are just treated as free labor. “Training” is to occur by rote observation while the intern is sent about one task or another. If the intern is very lucky, they may actually witness something that will be a teachable moment. As for the concept (mentioned deeper in this thread) that the corporation can use this opportunity to evaluate potential future hires, I have not seen a useful intern review yet. The reviews I’ve seen are inevitably very brief and mostly meaningless as the supervisor was just trying to fill out the obligatory paperwork, and not trying to provide a decent review of the intern’s capabilities. Heck, I’m just impressed when my HR can even match a future hire with any past internship records…

  • Jared James

    Geniuses don’t pay other people to adulterate their work. See: Galt v. SFWA et al., 354 US 262 et seq.

  • Eric

    “Hunsacker took over the factory after it collapsed due to the mismanagement of Jed Starnes’ heirs (about which more later), scraping up some money together with his friends to buy the property. He was excited to run the factory, calling it “the kind of opportunity I was entitled to” [p.294], but when he applied for several additional loans, he was turned down flat.”

    Notice – his proposal wasn’t turned down for *cause*, would Dagny be refused a loan under the same circumstances?

    “How were we to succeed in life if nobody would give us a factory? We couldn’t compete against the little snots who inherit whole chains of factories, could we? Weren’t we entitled to the same break?” [p.294]
    The same break Dagny got when her brother gave her a railroad?

    One of the major problems with Rand is that she sets up her villains as failures, but gives them reasonably good arguments that she then never addresses. What about the issue of inherited wealth in a ‘meritocracy’?

  • Eric

    Then have them sign a contract requiring them to work to pay back the training costs – at a reasonable wage. For example – the military trains you for your job, but you have to stay for 2-4 years.
    There’s no reason to work people without pay – especially if you aren’t really ‘training’ them (I’ve yet to see an internship that actually includes any training, you go in, and you work the same job as everyone else, except you get all the scutwork that no-one wants to do).

  • Science Avenger

    I’ve always thought that issue reveals libertarians as merely rationalizing in their own interests rather than taking a principled stand. There’s no way one can support a society where everyone has an equal shot and then support successful parents giving their children such a huge leg up. Thus the irony that to have a truly libertarian meritocracy, one must have socialized inheritance tax.

  • A Real Libertarian

    “An argument firms make is that sometimes, it costs a lot to train someone and the new person isn’t that productive”

    Otherwise known as investment.

    But hey, everyone knows investment is a commie doctrine anyways.