Atlas Shrugged: The Glory Days of Child Labor

Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter III

When she hears that Hank Rearden and Ken Danagger have been indicted for illegally doing business, Dagny rushes to Pittsburgh. For reasons she can’t fully explain, she’s certain that Danagger will be the next to vanish, and she’s desperate to reach him and convince him to stay before he’s taken away by the “destroyer” – her term for whatever force or entity is causing all the country’s great capitalists to disappear without a trace.

Her appointment with Danagger is at 3:00, but at 3:30, she’s still waiting in the lobby while he talks to someone else in his office. His secretary apologizes at length, saying that her boss is extremely punctual usually (“Ken Danagger was as rigidly exact about his schedule as a railroad timetable… he had been known to cancel an interview if a caller permitted himself to arrive five minutes late” – because of course a savvy businessman throws a multimillion-dollar contract in the garbage if their customer gets stuck in traffic).

Dagny sits and chain-smokes, becoming more and more impatient the longer Danagger spends with his mysterious visitor:

The door was not locked, thought Dagny; she felt an unreasoning desire to tear it open and walk in… but she looked away, knowing that the power of a civilized order and of Ken Danagger’s right was more impregnable a barrier than any lock.

Just to be clear, this is the same Dagny Taggart who threatened to murder any government official who made her apply for a permit; who bribed judges and legislators to let her seize a plant that went bankrupt; and who, yes, walked into an unguarded factory and carried out a piece of valuable machinery, with no idea whether there was a legal owner or not. (Thanks to arensb for pointing that last one out.) Randian protagonists’ regard for “civilized order” seems to be highly selective.

Dagny asked slowly, as a demand, in defiance of office etiquette, “Who is with Mr. Danagger?”

“I don’t know, Miss Taggart. I have never seen the gentleman before.” She noticed the sudden, fixed stillness of Dagny’s eyes and added, “I think it’s a childhood friend of Mr. Danagger… He came in unannounced and asked to see Mr. Danagger and said that this was an appointment which Mr. Danagger had made with him forty years ago.”

“How old is Mr. Danagger?”

“Fifty-two,” said the secretary. She added reflectively, in the tone of a casual remark, “Mr. Danagger started working at the age of twelve.”

This double-take-worthy sentence is said so casually, it’s easy to breeze past it. But Danagger works in the coal industry, remember! We must be meant to conclude that he started working in a coal mine at the age of twelve. (Thus beating Hank Rearden’s child-labor record by two years.)

Although the Western world has largely eliminated child labor, it still exists, and needless to say it’s not the path to fame and fortune that Atlas imagines. In countries like Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, child laborers work in the fields in conditions scarcely distinguishable from slavery, picking cotton or cacao. Chinese factories have repeatedly been caught using underage laborers as well.

The industries that exploit child labor today do so for the same reasons as the industries of yesteryear. Historically, child labor was used for dangerous work like glassmaking, in mills and canneries, both because owners could pay child workers less and because they were considered less likely to protest backbreaking toil or hazardous working conditions. And yes, there really once were child coal miners.

Child labor is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Without a social safety net, desperate families who can’t support their children may have no choice but to put them to work; but full-time labor makes it impossible for those children to get an education that could lead to a better job, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Rand doesn’t take note of this, but only because she’s scripted a world where education is somehow irrelevant. Hank Rearden can drop out after elementary school to labor in a mine, and still become a super-genius, good-at-everything metallurgist-architect-executive – rather than, say, being stuck at a fifth-grade reading level for life. (Francisco d’Anconia may be implausibly competent, but at least he went to college.)

And as in other things, Rand’s followers carry her simplistic ideas over into the real world. Chip Wilson, the founder of the yoga-wear company Lululemon, is an Ayn Rand devotee, and in 2005, he spoke at a sustainability conference to argue for child labor, asserting that 12- and 13-year-olds would be better off working in factories. Maine’s Tea Party governor Paul LePage has also called for the loosening of anti-child-labor laws.

Finally, Dagny is shown into Danagger’s office:

“How do you do, Miss Taggart,” he said. “Forgive me, I think that I have kept you waiting. Please sit down.” He pointed to the chair in front of his desk.

“I didn’t mind waiting,” she said. “I’m grateful that you gave me this appointment. I was extremely anxious to speak to you on a matter of urgent importance.”

…He looked at her in silence, and then he said, “Miss Taggart, this is such a beautiful day — probably the last, this year. There’s a thing I’ve always wanted to do, but never had time for it. Let’s go back to New York together and take one of those excursion boat trips around the island of Manhattan. Let’s take a last look at the greatest city in the world.”

She sat still, trying to hold her eyes fixed in order to stop the office from swaying. This was the Ken Danagger who had never had a personal friend, had never married, had never attended a play or a movie, had never permitted anyone the impertinence of taking his time for any concern but business.

We’re meant to imagine ominous background music as he speaks these sentences. Danagger’s desire to have some leisure for the first time in his entire life, to take a sightseeing trip on a beautiful day, isn’t an outbreak of normal-human-being behavior but proof that he’s become one of the pod people. (The horror, the horror: Randian capitalists are being replaced by sinister duplicates who pay a living wage, treat their employees well and expect them to have a life outside work!)

She presses him about who his visitor was, why he’s retiring, what he intends to do now. He refuses to answer each of her questions:

“What will you do with” — she pointed at the hills beyond the window — “the Danagger Coal Company? To whom are you leaving it?”

…”Want me to leave it all to you?” He reached for a sheet of paper. “I’ll write a letter naming you sole heiress right now, if you want me to.”

She shook her head in an involuntary recoil of horror. “I’m not a looter!”

Say what now? Why would it be “looting” for Dagny to accept a lawful transfer of private property? And, again, if it would be wrong to take someone else’s property without compensation, then how do we explain her blithely removing the magic motor from the factory where she found it, without any idea who the legal owner was?

Image: Child laborers in a coal mine, circa 1910. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, original photo by Lewis Hine

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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.

  • Martin Penwald

    « Germinal » , from Émile Zola, is a good description of labor conditions in coal mines in the XIX century, including childs labor and why poors stay poor. There was no way for miners to became rich. Eventually, some of them could rise socially becoming union leaders, but it represents a low proportion.

    The magical autodidacts of Ayn Rand are fantasy. It is a problem that the story lies on the premises that « movers » are that exceptional.

    I clearly don’t understand Dagny’s reaction. It could be an advantage for her company to have access to a coal mine. If the world is collapsing, it would be smart to leave the coal company in the hands of the über competent mover she is instead of an unknown looter. And she can always be named CEO temporarily, promisong to give back the company when Ken comes back. Just a contract to respect.

  • Alex SL

    Surely this makes for an internally coherent world view with an internally coherent ethical philosophy, but nobody but objectivists is brilliant enough to understand it. Well, either that or Ayn Rand just made crap up as she went along. One of those two.

  • Sneezeguard

    So wait, Dannager enjoys literally no frivolities. No friends, no family, no hobbies and no vacations… what the hell is his motivation to do anything?
    Seriously, this bothers me more than people being supremely competent at everything. I mean I like Batman stories and that’s his whole deal but seriously your characters have to have wants and desires to be in any way relatable as real people. But Dannager apparently desires nothing and businesses for the sake of business alone.
    I would point out that is a major failure of Kurt Vonneguts rules of creative writing but I’m pretty sure Ayn Rand violates every single one of those rules.

  • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

    If it was wrong to take someone else’s property without compensation, then inheritance couldn’t exist, among many other things which Rand liked.

  • GubbaBumpkin
  • StealthGaytheist

    Making money is the only acceptable motivation in Randworld.

  • Doug Langley

    Rand seemed to gloss over the issue of inheritance. Dagny received her father’s railroad, yet Rand writes it as if there was no connection. The brilliant girl just worked her way to the top. Not one whisper about daddy dieing or inheritance. Ditto for Fransisco – he opens his own small foundry, plays the stock market, etc, and when he gets the copper empire (again, no mention of dying parents), it’s treated like just another business deal.

  • Doug Langley

    Rand clearly had no objection to kids working, even in dangerous conditions. Miss school? Who cares – just work hard enough and you’ll own the mine/steel mill/whatever.

    But at the same time she adored a college education. She went to college, and so did many of her characters. (Why Dagny thought a major in engineering would help her run a railroad is beyond my comprehension.) But how do you qualify for college without going to high school or demonstrating equivalent knowledge? Work 14 hours a day in a coal mine and somehow pick up enough learning to pass the SAT?

  • Shawn

    At least dragons derive pleasure from sitting on top of their hoards. What on earth does Danagger even want money for, if he doesn’t enjoy anything else in his life? I like having money, but only insofar as it enables me to do stuff that I want to do and avoid things that I don’t.

  • StealthGaytheist

    Maybe he occasionally sits down and counts his money, or spends it on a new vault. I agree with you, though, that it would be a boring life. All work and no play…

  • Doug Langley

    “,…walked into an unguarded factory and carried out a piece of valuable machinery, with no idea whether there was a legal owner or not. ”

    Well, if I wanted to be charitable, it was on a scrap heap which presumably meant the owner didn’t want it anymore and had given up ownership rights. (But wouldn’t that be stealing from the junkman?)

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Seriously, this bothers me more than people being supremely competent at
    everything. I mean I like Batman stories and that’s his whole deal but
    seriously your characters have to have wants and desires to be in any
    way relatable as real people.

    And there are more than a few Batman stories where the primary thrust is to show that the character is at his very worst when his focus is entirely on what he is supremely competent at (crime fighting) to the exclusion of all else.

  • Jeff

    Not to mention that Francisco also inherited the name D’Anconia, which has its own sort of value, especially in the realm of copper and metallurgy. Regardless of the circumstances of how his little independent foundry got started, he would have had a massive advantage over others in a similar position just by merit of his name.

  • Jeff

    Fictional übermensch did just fine doing hard labor for 14 hours a day while still advancing their education, so obviously that’s an acceptable standard by which to judge real people.

  • Jeff

    I’m thinking of the original Super Mario Brothers here. The game had a system of assigning points – 100 for hopping on a goomba, 10 for picking up a coin, 1000 for getting a mushroom, and so on – but those points didn’t mean anything. At all. You would never get an extra life, or power ups, or be able to warp to a later level, by merit of your score. It was bragging rights, pure and simple.

    Danagger just wants the highest score. Money used to buy things is not pointless, but money kept for the sake of keeping it is functionally identical to the points you get for blasting a koopa with a fireball.

  • arensb

    From everything I’ve seen and read so far, it seems as though Ayn Rand saw the problems with the Soviet Union, and and went full-tilt in the other direction, like someone who grew up with an alcoholic father and goes on to tell others not to let a single drop of liquor cross their lips.
    I see this in the looter government’s obsession with (lip service to) fairness; central planning; capricious, ever-changing rules, which leads to people who are far more concerned with whether they’ll get blamed if something goes wrong, than the rewards if something goes well.

    Danagger’s desire to have some leisure for the first time in his entire
    life, to take a sightseeing trip on a beautiful day, isn’t an outbreak
    of normal-human-being behavior but proof that he’s become one of the pod
    people.

    Here, Danagger comes across as a mirror-world Stakhanovite or udarnik. Stakhanov worked for the state and the common good; Danagger works for himself. But in both cases, I see the same exhortation to work harder, with single-minded dedication to one’s goal.
    I don’t see Rand’s heroes just kicking back and relaxing by the fire with a glass of wine and a good book. Rather, I get the feeling that unless you’re working every waking moment being as productive as you possibly can, to become as rich as you can manage, then you’re a Bad Person. We’ve already seen this with Francisco d’Anconia, who is depicted as being a bad person for spending his massive earned wealth on parties, jet-setting, and women.
    Apparently work is supposed to be an end in itself, and not a way of obtaining comfort, pleasure, and the various things that we unenlightened people find enjoyable.

  • Cerebus36

    Has there ever been a Real Life example of somebody working in a coal mine or an oil field and advancing up the ladder to become a Randian Captain of Industry? Personally, I think it might have been possible/believable if it happened say, in the 19th Century or early 20th Century. But by the time Rand wrote “Atlas Shrugged”, there’s no way it could’ve happened.

    Then again, to me, so much of the book (I really cannot bring myself to dignify this work by calling it a “novel”) seems to take place not in the future, but in the past, in the early, maybe mid, 20th Century. For instance, it seems to me that Nat Taggart’s adventures could only have taken place in the late 19th Century. By the late to mid-20th Century, it would not really have been possible to open a new rail line, I would think. Bottom line is, it’s hard for me to read this book as taking place post 1958,’59. (Television is all but non-existent in the world of AS, for instance. It is mentioned, maybe once, but the most prominent media for information in the book is radio. Which was dying in the late Fifties.)

    I think I got off-topic. Sorry. (And while I’m off topic, I’ve gotta say, I’m now about finished with Chapter 1 of Part III. Damn, but Rand’s heroes are such whiners. And really, as bad as the book’s been prior to this, by the end of Part II and the start of Part III, AS actually gets *worse*. 0_o)

  • arensb

    Just think, if he’d been named “Amalgamated“, he would’ve gone broke within the year.

  • raylampert

    Technically speaking, yes. Abandoned property is literally up for grabs, but the rightful owner could show up and claim you stole it later. In these circumstances, I’m pretty sure one could argue that the motor was abandoned property. Real estate is different. You can’t just give up ownership of land. If you don’t pay your taxes the state can seize it and auction it off to pay your debts. But in Randworld the government is so incompetent that it doesn’t even do that.

  • Indigo

    I do know some people for whom their work is their passion and their pleasure, and they’re devoted to it to the extent that it seriously eats into their time to do anything else. Mostly they’re creative types in industries like film or theatre; a few are academics or scientists or what have you. And while I personally don’t get why anyone would feel that way about being CEO of a coal company, I suppose there must be some.
    Yet I still feel like for those people, money isn’t the most important thing. It’s a way to keep score, maybe, but that’s it. What they’re really after is the rush of power, the feeling of being in charge. People who are really in it for the money, I would imagine, would take some time off to enjoy it once in a while, as you say.

  • Cerebus36

    Later in the book, in Galt’s Gulch, Ellis Wyatt will boast he has cut the time it takes to produce his oil so any hours he’s saved is his. I kept thinking, “Do what? More work?”

  • raylampert

    Or rather work is a means to an end, said end being money. I know that Rand said that “a man is an end in himself”, but her characters don’t follow that. Rather they view money as the end in itself, rather than a means to something else. Rightfully viewed, money is a tool, something you use to get something else you want. The people who view the accumulation of material wealth as an end in itself are the Gordon Gekkos of the world.

  • raylampert

    The book was published in 1957, and she worked on it for years before, so it’s highly likely that it takes place in an alternate “present” or “near future” relative to that date. Some theories are that in Randworld, WWII never happened and the world underwent a series of socialist revolutions shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. Of course, she never actually explains her world’s history, so who can really say?

  • HematitePersuasion

    Even Scrooge McDuck enjoyed swimming in his Money Vault :-)

  • Loren Petrich

    The heyday of US railroad construction was roughly 1830 – 1920, with many of the major lines having been built in the mid to late 19th cy.

    Railroads were going downhill in Ayn Rand’s day, and she barely lived into when they started to recover. In the year she died, France opened part of its first high-speed line, between Paris and Lyon.

    In the Atlas Shrugged movies, did they use any video of present-day high-speed trains in them?

  • http://www.Kamenriderrecap.com Sneezeguard

    While I would agree there are people like that, here Dannager is willing to throw away his company without a thought, meaning it wasn’t the company or its success that he valued. It was… just the act of businessing I guess. Not the results, or the reasons, just… his primary motivation was to be a businessman doing business for the sake of business. I can’t fathom such a creature.

  • Shawn

    Offhand, I can think of Andrew Carnegie, who really did start out working on a factory floor at age 13 and ended up a captain of industry. Of course, I’m sure that Rand would disapprove of his later philanthropic impulses. (This is not to excuse the harsh business practices he engaged in to actually accumulate his money.)

  • Al Petterson

    “Full-tilt the other direction” not only in admonishing no one ever to touch a drop of liquor, but observing that since her father would sometimes dance when drunk, and say “I love you, man!” to his friends, also concluding that both dancing and expressions of love were inherently evil.

  • Al Petterson

    There’s being in charge, but for some lucky folk it’s also the sheer joy of creativity, of doing the thing you love. Rare, but it happens. At their naïve best, Objectivists will say that’s how everyone ought to be. It’s so very similar both to Marxists and to pre-rapture Christian Millennialists: “all problems will be solved and everyone will be happy – just do things my way!”

  • Al Petterson

    Joseph Campbell had some interesting things to say about dragons – that they were the symbol of the unconscious holding you back: they would hoard gold and capture virgins, but they didn’t ever *do* anything with any of it; never derive any benefit.

    That’s much how I view this money-for-its-own-sake delusion. I agree with Jeff here – it’s the kid who refuses to put down the Wii controller, even to eat or drink or use the bathroom, until he gets the high score.

  • Al Petterson

    The fantasy world Glorantha has a fictional argot called Tradetalk, developed by its god of commerce, designed to be easy to learn so that people who had no language in common could communicate in order to trade.

    In college we had great fun developing potential rules of this fictional language; among them was the idea that every sentence was a transaction; that it was a grammatical error to say “I will give you this”; it would be like a sentence fragment. You would have to say instead “I will trade you this in return for an unspecified future item”. We envisioned the mindset that would accompany such a language.

    Dagny’s “looter” comment put me in mind of this…

  • Doug Langley

    I worked in the film industry once. It coincided with my Randroid phase as well. I pushed at it, and did some interesting work. But – then what? I tell people about it and they say “Cool!” But how does that pay the bills today? It doesn’t.

    I look at my cousins. They had dull, steady jobs. But they have homes and comfy bank accounts. They play with grandchildren. They take vacations. They’re having a blast. You can really see how someone can miss so much with a single minded pursuit.

  • Cerebus36

    Yeah, I kinda figured that to find a Real Life example of Hank Rearden, you’d have to go back to the 19th Century, early 20th Century. At the time Rand wrote AS, such things would’ve been an impossibility.

  • Cerebus36

    “The heyday of US railroad construction was roughly 1830 – 1920, with many of the major lines having been built in the mid to late 19th cy.

    Railroads were going downhill in Ayn Rand’s day, and she barely lived into when they started to recover. In the year she died, France opened part of its first high-speed line, between Paris and Lyon.”

    That’s kinda what I thought. Which is why it feels like “Atlas Shrugged” takes place in the early part of the 20th Century rather than the middle of it.

  • Doug Langley

    According to Holland’s Theory of Career Choice, there are six personality types. Each person has strengths in a couple of types and weakness in others. Creativity is associated with the Artistic type and to a lesser degree the Investigative and Social types. The Enterprising type has very little creativity to it.

    I can understand how building a successful business would be an achievement, but it’s misleading to call it an exercise in creativity.

  • arensb

    There’s a similar problem in the Star Trek universe: at times it’s been explained that there’s no money in Star Trek, because everyone just does what they love.
    That works great for starship commanders, captains of industry, artists, etc. but not so much street sweepers or insurance adjusters.

  • Cactus_Wren

    I’m remembering how frustrated Harold Gray became in the 1940s and ’50s, when he so tragically couldn’t turn Little Orphan Annie loose to wander the countryside and earn her own living, because of those darned child-labor and child-custody rules. There’s a story arc from 1944 where Daddy Warbucks is dead (he’s faked it, but Annie doesn’t know that) and Annie is forced into foster care, in the home of the wealthy Mrs. Bleating-Hart. Outside of school hours she cooks Mrs. Bleating-Hart’s meals, serves them (dressed in a cut-down maid’s uniform), herself eats in the kitchen, sleeps in the attic, shovels coal, sweeps, mops, does all the cleaning … and speaks (in direct address to the reader) of how much better this is than if she were sponging off the taxpayers in an orphanage.

  • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

    I was thinking how that would detract from the whole “self-made millionaire” shtick, but then you have Francisco, who inherited his wealth, so Rand just ignored that problem too.

  • X. Randroid

    FWIW, Rand was aiming for “timelessness”—in her own weird conception of “timeless,” which is to say divorced from any particular time. She wrote somewhere that she thought it was a mistake to identify any specific real-world products (I think Coca-Cola was her example) in a story because it would tie the the story to a time/place where that product is available, and such a story can’t be truly timeless. As I recall, she also said she regretted putting years in The Fountainhead (starts in 1922, ends in the 1930s, I forget the year) because she felt it made the story less timeless.

    She wanted Atlas Shrugged to always feel like it could happen in the near future. That’s why she tries to be vague about how remote an “ancestor” Nat Taggart or Sebastian d’Anconia might be or exactly when they lived (although, as you note, Nat Taggart would pretty much have to be late 19th century), never providing a year for any event, and not explaining how her world got to be the way it is.

    The problem is, of course, that tomorrow quickly becomes yesterday. So Atlas Shrugged ends up feeling weirdly dated in a way that The Fountainhead does not.

  • SmogMonster

    Batman’s single-minded obsessiveness is generally portrayed as a sign of his emotional problems. He focuses on crime-fighting and investigations as a way of avoiding things he finds difficult or painful, like feelings and relationships. This is actually what makes the character relatable, in my mind, because we all do that. Avoidance behavior! Because thinking about how to bring up that issue with your beloved/boss/BFF/etc makes you really anxious.

  • X. Randroid

    On the subject of child labor, one of Francisco’s childhood escapades (from Chapter V of Part I) involves him getting a job at Taggart Transcontinental at the age of twelve. Among other feats of genius, this required him “to by-pass all the child labor laws” by some method that no one ever found out. Which suggests that Rand’s constructed world has such laws, or at least had them when Francisco was 12.

    If you do the math, Danagger (who also started working at age 12) is about 14 years older than Francisco. One could snarkily conclude that the laws were enacted by the evil looting government sometime between Danagger’s and Francisco’s 12th birthdays. Or one could conclude that Rand just threw in a reference to child labor laws as an obstacle that young Francisco brilliantly overcame, then promptly forgot about the issue.

    More seriously, Rand’s endorsement of working at a young age can lead to real-life horrors like a father urging his daughter to emancipate herself at age 16. This father’s actions have been widely denounced among Objectivists … but the problem is that if you really follow Rand’s logic, it’s hard to argue that parents shouldn’t push their kids to become self-supporting as soon as they possibly can.

  • X. Randroid

    “Apparently work is supposed to be an end in itself, and not a way of obtaining comfort, pleasure, and the various things that we unenlightened people find enjoyable.”

    One of Rand’s many problems is that she makes a virtue out of workaholism. For her heroes, money is nice, but the real reward is the feeling of accomplishment. Here’s how she describes Hank and Dagny at the opening of the John Galt Line:

    They looked at each other and she knew that he felt as she did. This was not to be a solemn venture upon which their future depended, but simply their day of enjoyment. Their work was done. For the moment, there was no future. They had earned the present.

    Only if one feels immensely important, she had told him, can one feel truly light. Whatever the train’s run would mean to others, for the two of them their own persons were this day’s sole meaning. Whatever it was that others sought in life, the right to what they now felt was all that the two of them wished to find.

    What the Randian hero is always looking for is not money but the high of accomplishing a significant goal. (See also The Fountainhead, where Roark happily designs a building for someone else, for no pay other than the satisfaction of seeing it built.)

    And after this day of celebration, the high will wear off and it’ll be on to the next goal.

  • Loren Petrich

    History of rail transport in the United States – Wikipedia is a good place to start. Railroads dominated the economy in the late 19th cy., and they provoked a backlash of regulation that proved very constricting in the mid 20th cy. By then, construction of flat roads enabled lots of car and truck competition, and construction of airports enabled lots of air competition.

    The railroads went downhill, and in a desperate attempt to rescue themselves, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central merged in 1968, forming the Penn Central. That did not help them very much, because the Penn Central went bankrupt two years later. The Federal Government then created Amtrak and Conrail to pick up the pieces. The prospect of other railroads going that way led to the Staggers Act of 1980, which removed a lot of the more awkward regulations. This enabled railroad companies to merge and to abandon their less-used trackage. Since then, they have recovered, and they have recently been investing in various improvements.

    The freight railroads have been doing fairly well, especially with operational improvements like doublestacks. However, Amtrak has not done as well, mostly holding in place, but with some improvements courtesy of various states. The fastest Amtrak service, in the Northeast Corridor, is rather respectable by European standards, but not as fast as the high-speed trains there.

  • Loren Petrich

    There’s a certain problem with building a new railroad line. Acquiring the land to build it on. That was not much of a problem in much of the 19th cy., but by the mid 20th cy., much of the land had been claimed, and it would be necessary to buy it or lease it from its owners. Furthermore, a line cannot simply bend around some recalcitrant owner’s property. That would make the line nearly useless. An owner who is aware of that could hold out for more money, something completely legitimate according to Randian principles.

    That’s why roads are often built with the help of Eminent Domain. Anyone reluctant to sell their property would be forced to sell it.

  • X. Randroid

    Danagger is willing to throw away his company because his mysterious visitor has persuaded him (in just under three hours) that he is betraying his own life by letting the likes of us vilify him for being “a businessman doing business for the sake of business” or enslave him with regulations that limit his ability to do more and more business. So he’s going to walk away in order to teach the rest of us that a businessman doing business for the sake of business is actually the noblest thing one can possibly be … and that if we want to live, we need to get out of his face and let him do all the businessing he wants.

  • Doug Langley

    And there’s one more thing they want: admiration. The peons should worship them for their greatness and sing hosannas constantly. Look how they get bent out of shape at unflattering editorials and such.

  • Doug Langley

    Hmm . . . there’s something about those three hour speeches. They seem to have a powerful effect. Maybe it’s a form of torture? “Alright, alright, I’ll join you, just make it stop!”

  • Doug Langley

    I hadn’t read that bit, but it’s nice to know that Rand intended the story to have an ambiguous setting instead of just being sloppy writing.

    Still, there’s a lot of anachronisms that mess things up. There’s airplanes, which place the story in the 20th century, but all the industrial revolution tech puts it in the 19th. Characters dress and talk like a 1940′s melodrama. The super tech (super metals, sound ray weapons) were chestnuts in the ’30s SF pulps. Virtually no mention of television, plastics, computers, or atomic energy. No Great Depression, no WWII.

    Considering that Rand was a Hollywood screenwriter, I’ve decided the story makes a lot more sense if we just assume it’s a screenplay for a film noir movie.

  • Doug Langley

    Oh, God. That Salon piece is fantastic. But why exactly would Objectivists object to it? Looks to me like Daddie Dearest did exactly what Rand preached. Unless they think he was too altruistic for offering her a job in the first place.

  • X. Randroid

    Absolutely. We should all realize that winning battles and saving people out of burning buildings isn’t the best within us; it’s business and earning a living, so our highest accolades should go to the businessmen. Labor Day should be replaced with Businessman’s Day! And Ayn Rand’s birthday should be a national holiday too!

    (This might sound like snark, but those really are things Objectivists think will happen when their philosophic victory is won and the Second Renaissance arrives.)

  • Cerebus36

    Given that Coca-Cola has been around for over hundred years, I believe, it’s hard to think that a Coke product placement in a book would date it. Cooking with lard on the other hand…

  • X. Randroid

    The objections were grounded in the Objectivist notion that becoming a parent basically means binding yourself to a “contract” to take care of your child until the child is ready to be self-sufficient and to make your best efforts to prepare your child for self-sufficiency. According to the objectors, this contract obligates the parent to financially support his child through high school at least (some added college as well!), on the grounds that the child needs that much education as a prerequisite of becoming self-sufficient. The father, they said, was twisting Rand’s ideas to try to weasel out of his financial-support obligations.

    None of them ever “checked their premise” that a child needs to graduate from high school (let alone college) in order to be self-sufficient. Why shouldn’t a child old enough to start working divide her time between school and a job? In fact, if you suppose that one can only be truly moral if one is self-sufficient, isn’t it in the child’s rational self-interest to become self-sufficient sooner rather than later? And, of course, assuming that the obligation of a parent to support a child ends when the child is self-sufficient, it must also be in the parent’s interest to get the child to that point as early as possible, in order to reduce the “cost” of performing the contract. Seems like the Randian logic is all on the side of “Daddie Dearest,” doesn’t it?

    And yet, somehow, every Objectivist I ever heard or read on the subject agreed that what the father did here was an immoral attempt to breach the parental contract.

  • X. Randroid

    I should add that the Little Orphan Annie story line Cactus_Wren describes below embraces the same view.

  • Doug Langley
  • Doug Langley

    Contract? Hmm, I’m looking through my baby book and old records and can’t find a contract anywhere. I’ll bet Mom and Dad lost it.

    Reminds me of a Calvin & Hobbes strip:
    “I don’t have to go to bed!”
    “Actually, you do. It’s in your contract.”
    “Contract?”
    “That’s right. Of course, you were just a fetus, so I had power of attorney and signed it for you . . .”

    Another good one. Calvin is complaining again. Dad replies, “Well, Calvin, that’s certainly food for thought. Now here’s something for you to think about. The average cost of raising a child to age 18 is $150,000. Now you need to ask yourself . . . is that a GIFT or a LOAN?”

  • Doug Langley

    How about men wearing hats? That dates it even more than Coca-Cola.

  • Cerebus36

    I think $150,000 would be cheap compared to what costs probably are nowadays.

  • Cerebus36

    Unless the hat’s a porkpie hat, then you’re right back to where fashion has trended. Though I think it’s falling out of fashion again. Baseball caps are still good. If Rand had Francisco wearing a backwards baseball cap, it wouldn’t date the book too much. ;)

  • Snoof

    “Ken Danagger was as rigidly exact about his schedule as a railroad
    timetable… he had been known to cancel an interview if a caller
    permitted himself to arrive five minutes late” – because of course a savvy businessman throws a multimillion-dollar contract in the garbage if their customer gets stuck in traffic.

    Once again, we see the assumption that nothing ever happens except by choice, in Rand’s word. There’s no room for accidents, for happenstance. Nobody would be late because of circumstances beyond their control, and to suggest so is a sign of moral weakness. No, people are late because they choose to be, and for no other reason.

    It’s almost like a form of autotheism. People don’t live in the world, they create it through their actions and there are no limits as to what they can accomplish.

  • Al Petterson

    Ironically, of course, cigarettes, radios, trains, and success despite lack of education all date the book far more than the inclusion of specific products would have.

  • Al Petterson

    National *holiday*? You mean that to honor Ayn Rand, people should *take a day off from work*?
    Holy crap these people are incoherent. :)


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