Atlas Shrugged: No OSHA Compliance

Atlas Shrugged: No OSHA Compliance August 1, 2014


Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter III

At the end of his workday, Rearden is looking down on the factory floor, musing on Dagny’s story of Ken Danagger’s disappearance and the strange force that’s causing business owners to abandon their jobs. Rearden wonders, with a touch of envy, why they didn’t come for him as well; but in the next instant he angrily thinks that he’d murder anyone who tried to persuade him to give up his steel mills.

Finally, he turns to go, but he finds Francisco d’Anconia waiting in the anteroom. Francisco asks him how he’s getting on:

“What will his disappearance do to you?”

“I will just have to work a little harder.”

Francisco looked at a steel bridge traced in black strokes against red steam beyond the window, and said, pointing, “Every one of those girders has a limit to the load it can carry. What’s yours?”

Rearden laughed. “Is that what you’re afraid of? Is that why you came here? Were you afraid I’d break?”

Francisco says no, he’s come for a different reason: “But what I wonder about, Mr. Rearden, is why you live by one code of principles when you deal with nature and by another when you deal with men?”

Francisco says, and Rearden agrees, that rather than being rewarded for inventing Rearden Metal as he expected and deserved, he’s been punished; that instead of the metal being used by “giants of productive energy” like Ellis Wyatt, it’s being used by “whining rotters” who don’t deserve to benefit from his genius. That leads to the mother of all tropes, the book’s title drop:

“Mr. Rearden,” said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, “if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders… blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength… what would you tell him to do?”

“I don’t know. What could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

Before Francisco can explain any further, they’re interrupted by an alarm siren. Without hesitating, both men rush down the stairs to the factory floor, where they see that a furnace has broken open and is spurting liquid iron:

The stream, gushing from a hole low on the side of a blast furnace, did not have the red glow of fire, but the white radiance of sunlight.

It poured along the ground, branching off at random in sudden streaks; it cut through a dank fog of steam with a bright suggestion of morning.

In the few moments which Rearden needed to grasp the sight and nature of the disaster, he saw a man’s figure rising suddenly at the foot of the furnace, a figure outlined by the red glare almost as if it stood in the path of the torrent, he saw the swing of a white shirt sleeved arm that rose and flung a black object into the source of the spurting metal. It was Francisco d’Anconia, and his action belonged to an art which Rearden had not believed any man to be trained to perform any longer.

Years before, Rearden had worked in an obscure steel plant in Minnesota, where it had been his job, after a blast furnace was tapped, to close the hole by hand — by throwing bullets of fire clay to dam the flow of the metal. It was a dangerous job that had taken many lives; it had been abolished years earlier by the invention of the hydraulic gun; but there had been struggling, failing mills which, on their way down, had attempted to use the outworn equipment and methods of a distant past.

Rearden joins Francisco, and the two of them (aren’t there any other workers in the factory?) stand side-by-side throwing clay into the hole until the leak is plugged. Finally the disaster is over, and they get down to what’s really important – blaming the looters for it:

A young man with a look of chronic hurt and impertinence together, rushed up to him, crying, “I couldn’t help it, Mr. Rearden!” and launched into a speech of explanation. Rearden turned his back on him without a word. It was the assistant in charge of the pressure gauge of the furnace, a young man out of college.

Remember, industrial accidents only happen because people don’t love capitalism enough!

I wanted to focus on this section because it alludes to something Rand otherwise almost never mentions: the fact that some jobs are dangerous. By the time the furnace is plugged, Francisco and Rearden are scorched, their hands bloodied, and several workers are receiving first aid. Remember, she calls this technique “a dangerous job that had taken many lives”.

How does this work in the Atlas world? Rand’s capitalist titans are in industries where there’s ample opportunity for on-the-job injury: coal mines, steel mills, railroads. If a worker is maimed or crippled on the job – if someone gets a hand or a leg cut off by a railroad engine, if someone is blinded by a spray of molten steel, if someone’s spine is crushed – what happens?

Do Rand’s heroes voluntarily offer paid sick leave for injured workers to recuperate? If so, why do they do that – out of the selfless benevolence of their hearts? What if someone is permanently disabled and can never return to the job? Somehow I doubt that Hank or Dagny would willingly pay out a lifetime’s worth of disability checks to someone who can’t work.

But ultimately we’re left to guess, because serious on-the-job injury, like street crime or corporate corruption, is another of those things that don’t exist in Randworld (even though, in some real-world industries, the lifetime rate of such injury is as high as one in five). Because it threatens to blur the sharp boundary between productive makers and worthless takers, she sweeps it under the rug.

But others have gone where Atlas dares not tread. Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle is most famous for its stomach-turning passages about Chicago meatpacking plants, but there’s also a section about a steel mill in the days before OSHA:

His fourth day at his work Jurgis saw a man stumble while running in front of a car, and have his foot mashed off, and before he had been there three weeks he was witness of a yet more dreadful accident. There was a row of brick furnaces, shining white through every crack with the molten steel inside. Some of these were bulging dangerously, yet men worked before them, wearing blue glasses when they opened and shut the doors. One morning as Jurgis was passing, a furnace blew out, spraying two men with a shower of liquid fire. As they lay screaming and rolling upon the ground in agony, Jurgis rushed to help them, and as a result he lost a good part of the skin from the inside of one of his hands. The company doctor bandaged it up, but he got no other thanks from any one, and was laid up for eight working days without any pay.

There are countless real-world examples of employers who were indifferent to worker safety and treated injured employees as damaged goods to be thrown away (ironically, one very similar accident happened at a real company that scorned the idea of workplace safety regulations). If Ayn Rand had some explanation for how her philosophy would handle this better than how it actually happened in history, that would be one thing. But she doesn’t address it at all. Could we be blamed for suspecting that that’s because she simply doesn’t want to think about it?

Other posts in this series:

"Not to mention humans' upright stance decoupling our rate of breathing from our walking gate, ..."

The Fountainhead: Nasty, Brutish and Short
"That's what Adam is doing. Do you honestly think that people complaining in the DA ..."

A Note on Patheos Comment Policy
"I read an amusingly outraged review of Good Omens in some right-wing online rag (can't ..."

TV Review: Good Omens
"I'm not sure about that, but in any case as you say it is very ..."

White Evangelicals Oppose Jesus

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • BREAKING NEWS: Disappeared multi millionaire Francisco d’Anconio found dead in industrial accident at a factory owned by his long time business associate Hank Rearden. Police have not yet ruled out foul play.
    Hank Rearden chose to speak to reporters and proceeded to go on a long, rambling, disjointed speech. Alternatively blaming a young worker in his plant for not having enough experience to do his job, and a mysterious conspiracy of industrialists as well as an apparently separate government conspiracy.
    Hank Rearden was recently brought up on charges of violating numerous anti-trust, anti-monopoly, and tax laws and it is unknown if the events are related.

  • Doug Langley

    I believe that Rand included this scene purely for dramatic reasons. She wanted to show that Fransisco is a soul mate to Reardon, that they fight for a common cause, that they’re heroic and courageous. And think of the visual impact – men whipping their arms like big league pitchers (if sports of any kind actually existed in Randworld), spurting metal, flying clay. Great for a movie screenplay.

    Oh yes, and blaming the looters for forcing Reardon to hire incompetents.

    Too bad it’s completely illogical.

  • kiljoy616

    Ayn Rand should have written a second book titled “We got alone just fine without them” because her stories are childish dribble about only a few make the world go around. When its more in line that a minority of people can’t do much of anything but steal the life out of the rest of humanity.

  • I like that “college boy” dig there. That kid’s not a real capitalist. He’s an intellectual. Reads books, doncha know. Got himself some fancy “engineering” degree from one of them rich-people schools.

  • Cerebus36

    What had me shaking my head was that naturally Francisco was experienced with the kind of disaster that was happening at the plant and he naturally knew what to do to solve the problem. And of course, he was just as skilled at flinging the clay as Hank Rearden is. But nobody else is. I guess Rearden Metal never had any fire drills or discussed safety measures or What To Do In Case Of…lectures.

  • thompjs

    I’m glad you are reading this. I tried to start it 30 years ago and was so bored 10 pages in I quit. I really appreciate the summary of the book.

  • StealthGaytheist

    Capitalism/industry without proper regulations results in things like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the BP spill. Regulations aren’t there to “bridle” people, as Rand suggests, but to protect them

  • Jeff

    I think the events of this chapter make Francisco a dishonorable oathbreaker.

    The oath in question would be the one that got him admission as a resident into Galt’s Gulch. I forget the specific wording, but part of it is definitely vowing to live your life only for yourself, and another part is that any work done by a Gulchie out in the real world could only be unskilled, menial labor. Francisco risked his own life to protect somebody else’s factory (unasked, even), and he did so by employing a rare skill that most people, even within the industry, didn’t know how to do.

  • Cerebus36

    The further I get in the book, the more it seems to me the Gulchers don’t exactly follow their avowed belief system too closely.

  • Yeah, Rearden says that his older and more experienced workers would have known how to prevent the accident, but when disaster strikes, only he and Francisco actually do anything. Apparently, everyone else just stands around helplessly the whole time. Even when they see what their boss is doing, none of them join in to help.

  • Science Avenger

    That scene at least would translate well to the modern era, just have them all standing there recording it on their cell phones.

  • Maybe all the older & more experienced workers are dead or disabled.

  • Al Petterson

    Rand’s mythology, of course, has the same problem as the rest of her work – no real knowledge or research. Atlas doesn’t hold up the earth (though it’s a common misconception). He holds up the sky.

    In the myth, Hercules comes to the titan Atlas, and asks for permission to approach his daughters, who guard a tree where an apple grows that Hercules is tasked to fetch. Atlas refuses to give permission, and counteroffers: if Hercules agrees to hold up the sky temporarily, Atlas will go himself and fetch the apple. Hercules agrees, and takes up the load. Atlas returns with the apple, then – not wanting to resume his duty – tells Hercules he’ll also go take the apple to the king, to complete the task on his behalf.

    Herc can hardly refuse this altered agreement, as he’s trapped under the sky. Not being as dumb as he looks, however, he sees where this is likely to go – why would Atlas ever agree to retake the duty to hold up the sky? – and pretends to agree with this coercion – but, he says, would Atlas just come over and hold it for a moment, so that he can adjust his cloak? Atlas takes the sky back, at which point Hercules cheerfully picks up the apple and leaves, to Atlas’ fury.

    There’s a lot of valid and rich metaphor one could extract from this story, about duty, contracts, duress, and the clever taking advantage of the easily duped. But, true to form, Rand has essentially no knowledge of the real story…

  • Al Petterson

    Also missing from Rand’s understanding: the reason neither Atlas nor Hercules considers simply shrugging off what they’re holding. If the sky falls, it falls on everybody, including Atlas himself.

  • That’s not missing from Rand’s understanding. If you’ll look at Part 3, you’ll see that the “heroes” fully understand that they are living worse than they were before.

  • Very funny!

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    FWIW, the actual oath is this:

    I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

    The rest supposedly follows from that, including that the strikers are not supposed to aid the looters, since the looters basically demand that the producers live for the sake of the parasites. Also, they shouldn’t aid anyone who is aiding the looters, like Hank Rearden. So yeah, Francisco saving Rearden’s furnace would be a violation of the oath, even if he hadn’t risked his life to do it. That he risked his life makes it worse.

  • Martin Penwald

    You are wrong, übercapitalists don’t need sick leave, because whatever they do, they will never be harmed. Look how Hank and Francisco handle the incident. Only looters and parasites get harmed. Isn’t that obvious ?
    It was definitively not only green tea that Ayn Rand took.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    For all her talk of logic, Rand certainly wasn’t good at it.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    “It was definitively not only green tea that Ayn Rand took.”

    It was benzedrine, as I recall.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Rand believed that “rational self-interest” is all the protection anyone needs. If everyone acts in their own rational self-interest, nobody gets hurt … so there’s no need for regulation.

    Alan Greenspan believed this too, at least until 2008.

  • Al Petterson

    “Worse” in what sense? They *prefer* it to how they were before, else they would repent their decision and seek to return. The claim does not sound like it’s been thought through.

  • Al Petterson

    There is some amount of irony in the posting of an hour-long rant, you realize.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Nope, they don’t think they are living worse. Their attitude is captured in this exchange between Dagny and Wyatt, when she visits his shale-oil extraction operation in Galt’s Gulch:

    “That’s the process which you were working to develop while you were on earth?” She said it involuntarily and she gasped a little at her own words.

    He laughed. “While I was in hell—yes. I’m on earth now.”

    “How much do you produce?”

    “Two hundred barrels a day.”

    A note of sadness came back into her voice: “It’s the process by which you once intended to fill five tank-trains a day.”

    “Dagny,” he said earnestly, pointing at the tank, “one gallon if it is worth more than a trainful back there in hell—because this is mine, all of it, every single drop of it, to be spent on nothing but myself.”

    Does that sound like a guy who thinks he’s worse off?

  • Doug Langley

    Or so he testified before Congress. Funny how he went back to his old ways afterward.

  • Doug Langley

    I believe she was also a choco-holic.

  • Doug Langley

    So if Atlas is supposed to be holding up the earth . . .

    what’s he standing on?

  • Doug Langley

    That is completely consistent with Rand’s view that the industrialist knows everything and everyone else is a complete dolt, so if he leaves, everything falls apart. But you’re right, that should necessitate scenes where Reardon explains procedures to his employees.

  • Doug Langley

    This really bothers me. Does it actually take a Nobel Laureate to figure out how to throw stuff?

  • Doug Langley

    Just out of curiosity . . . why doesn’t uber genius Reardon have a hydraulic gun handy? Or invent an even better way of plugging leaks? The best run mill in the world relies on outdated equipment?

  • Doug Langley

    Older and more experienced workers.

    As opposed to real life, where businessmen are driven by age discrimination to kick out the older, experienced workers in favor of young people.

  • Cerebus36

    As a matter of fact, in addition to Galt’s Gulch and Midas’ Valley, one of the nicknames for where they have all gone to vacation (it doesn’t become their permanent residence til later in the book, I suspect [I’m only on page 943, in the midst of the “This Is John Galt” filibuster.]) is “Atlantis”. To them, Galt and the other Randroid supermen, they’re living in Heaven..

  • Cerebus36

    Yeah, that’s something so simple even a baboon can do it. (And it is tempting to make that comparison to Francisco and Rearden.)

  • Sue White

    What the heck is he going to do with it?

  • Cerebus36

    The oil or all the time he’s saving?

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    No, no, no – she was coo-coo for Co-Co Puffs, as I recall.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Funny you should ask. Dagny actually does ask Wyatt who his market is. Here’s his answer:

    Only those who add to my life, not those who devour it, are my market. Only those who produce, not those who consume, can ever be anybody’s market. I deal with the life-givers, not the cannibals. If my oil takes less effort to produce, I ask less of the men to whom I trade it for the things I need. … And since they’re men like me, they keep inventing faster ways to make the things they make—so everyone one of them grants me an added minute, hour or day with the bread I buy form them, with the clothes, the lumber, the metal … an added year with every month of electricity I purchase. That’s our market and that’s how it works for us.

    Well, that should clear it up … unless, of course, you’re wondering who’s actually using 200 barrels of oil a day, in a community of maybe a few hundred people where everyone mostly walks from point A to point B, there’s only one tractor, and Galt’s magic motor is providing all the electricity. That, I’m afraid, has never been explained.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Why would he spend money on a hydraulic gun? Rearden never allows accidents in his mills, so he’s had no need for such a thing. Well, not until now, when, despite the sky-high unemployment, it seems the best person he could hire to be “in charge of the pressure gauge” (sounds so technical, doesn’t it?) is that impertinently hurting “young man out of college,” who is obviously incompetent because he “couldn’t help it” that something went wrong.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    She had to be right about something … says the choco-holic.

  • Yeah, it does. Rand does address this, sort of, in a passage later on where Francisco tips Rearden off not to do any business with D’Anconia Copper, saying something like, “someday you’ll understand what treason I’m committing by telling you this”.

    But it’s never made clear why, after saving the furnace, Francisco doesn’t just finish giving Rearden the Galt’s Gulch recruitment speech he came to deliver. Presumably it would be just as magically effective on him as it was on Danagger and all the others. (Probably the only real reason is that the book would just end at that point rather than the mystery needlessly dragging on for twenty-some-odd chapters.)

  • It’s turtles all the way down, of course.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I think we are supposed to believe that the task is not as simple as just throwing stuff. Rearden thinks of it as a lost art (or more precisely “an art which Rearden had not believed any man to be trained to perform any longer” … note to Rand: get an editor). He’d been trained to do it years ago, “but in the years since, he had met no other man able to do it,” until he sees Francisco doing it “with the skill of an expert.” So they’re not just throwing stuff; they’re throwing stuff with expertise. Also it involves wearing goggles and standing near a furnace that’s leaking molten metal, so it’s obviously way beyond the capability of ordinary steelworkers.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    As to why Francisco doesn’t give the magic recruitment speech, I think we’re supposed to infer that Francisco has realized Rearden loves his work too much to be ready to quit, so he decides it’s not time yet. But that doesn’t really make sense as Francisco’s in-character logic. Danagger and all the others (including Francisco himself) love their work just as much as Rearden does—it’s what they all live for—and yet the recruitment speech worked on them … so why not Hank?

    But if the book were to end here, Dagny wouldn’t meet Galt, Galt wouldn’t deliver his 60-page speech, Lillian doesn’t get her comeuppance, Rand wouldn’t “prove” that anyone who wants to tax or regulate a businessman doesn’t want to live, and we wouldn’t even get the Winston Tunnel scene (a.k.a. authorial revenge). So Francisco has to just walk away.

  • Cerebus36

    It wouldn’t necessarily have to end then. Not if Rand did a cut-away just as Francisco begins to talk to Rearden. Then in a few pages, say, we could learn that Hank Rearden is now one of the deserters. Of course, then we wouldn’t be treated to all the drama involving Hank Rearden and his divorce and his mills…

  • Doug Langley

    Doesn’t take expertise to stand near molten metal. Just lots of sunblock.

    So’s howcum Reardon never trained his workers to do it?

  • Doug Langley

    You’re welcome.

  • Doug Langley

    Which has chocolate, duh.

  • Doug Langley

    Ah, you noticed. I only realized recently that Rand had fallen for that fallacy which I believe is a misreading of Say’s Law: “Supply creates its own demand”. She seemed to believe that all you had to do is create something wonderful and there’s always a market for it. Same for labor – if you are a good worker, there’s always a job for you. It never ceases to amaze me how, in the midst of economic chaos, Dagney gives a job to the bum just because he talks her language. In this thinking, there’s no such thing as low demand.

    (There’s also one car and a repair shop, but they still couldn’t burn up that much oil.)

  • Doug Langley

    But it’s an interesting point. The only reason skills become rare is because new technology makes them obsolete. Indeed, Rand states that the hydraulic gun has made the skill superfluous. So if the skill is rare, that means Reardon has the gun. But if he doesn’t, why doesn’t he hire or train men with the skill?

    Yeah, I know, it’s just to prove that Fransisco and Hank are supermen that save the day while mere mortals can only look on in astonishment.

  • It’s possible we’re meant to conclude that Rearden had a hydraulic gun but had to sell it, or couldn’t get parts for it, or something, due to the looters’ policies restricting him and wrecking the economy. But I don’t recall that ever being spelled out.

  • That’s Rand’s famous brevity, trusting you to glean the details of the plot from her concise narrative.

  • d’Anconia may as well be wearing a cape, tights, and a “D” on his chest.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    It’s also another instance of a Randian Hero not making sensible contingency plans. Except for the mortal danger part, it’s a lot like Dagny’s first appearance (back in Part I, Chapter I), where she has to save the day by telling her train crew what to do about a signal they think might be broken. Apparently, dealing with the contingency of a broken signal is not part of standard training for Taggart crews. And later, Dagny will be mortified to learn that shippers are putting “transportation permitting” clauses into their contracts.

    Bottom line: Randian Heroes don’t believe in contingency plans. That would imply that they’re less than certain that whatever they’re doing is going to work. And uncertainty is anathema to Rand.

  • I meant “worse” in the sense that they have less stuff to use. Just like Atlas would be considered by most to be worse off if he shrugged and let the sky crush him, but he might consider himself to be subjectively better off as he has destroyed those moochers who rely on him. Of course, from a subjective perspective, they are all better off.

  • Exactly.

  • Doug Langley

    It didn’t really bother me when I read the book, but now that I’ve been reading these posts, I’m really seeing how Rand kept throwing out offhand remarks and then forgetting them. In a story intended to cover the whole of human experience and using allegedly complete logic (she bragged Atlas Shrugged “has no contradictions”), there are countless plot holes and WTF? moments.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Turtles or Atlas’s (Atlasi?). Maybe some elephants.

  • Pacal

    All of which goes to show that Reardon is NOT a thoroughly rational Industrialist exercising his self interest otherwise he would in Randian terms have had drills and training etc., to deal with possible accidents etc. Reardon is basically behaving stupidly and non rationally otherwise just how would this accident happen and his employees not, apparently, have a clue how to deal with it. In fact only the sheer luck that Reardon et al just happened to b e there prevented, it seems, a serious disaster. So just how did Reardon manage to be so careless that he didn’t it seems have any plans etc., in place to deal with such a disaster possibly happening? So much for Reardon super genius.

  • Azkyroth

    Unfortunately she used up the whole box of crayons on Atlas.

  • Cerebus36

    Isn’t it also a little odd that we have all these Randian Superheroes who do and make everything ever so perfectly and yet, Hank Reardon’s mill has a structural flaw that allowed this accident to happen? (Of course, I realize that while the Randian Superheroes would never allow, much less cotton to the idea of, people coming in to inspect their wondrous factories, but you’d think Hank Reardon himself would take a daily tour of Reardon Metal, if only to admire his loved one.) (If he had done a daily tour, you’d think the Hank’s superheroic eagle eyes would have spotted the fatal flaw and had it fixed. [oh, hell, he’d fix it himself. He’s just that good.])

  • Doug Langley

    Thank goodness Reardon managed to squeeze “be at mill to fix disaster” in his busy schedule of month-long vacations, sexual affairs, and going to parties to wail how he has it so hard.

  • Doug Langley

    According to the passage, it was caused by that doltish guy who couldn’t read a pressure gauge right.

    Help me out here, it’s been a while since I read the book. Was there any law passed that forced Reardon to fire his good workers and hire jerks?

  • Doug Langley

    Writing this just reminded me of something: the disaster in Bhopal. Union Carbide suits claimed it was caused by an employee committing sabotage (oddly, they never named the guy). But an independent investigation concluded gross negligence and broken equipment.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    The laws restraining hiring come later, with Directive 10-289. I think the idea here is supposed to be that Galt’s strike and/or the absence of Hugh Akston (the philosopher/teacher) is having a significant effect on the rank-and-file workforce, not just in the C-suite. Back in Part I, Chapter X, Dagny complains to Akston about how hard it is to find competent men for any job. (This despite double-digit unemployment, of course.) And his response is: “I know a little about that.”

    I think we’re supposed to infer that the incompetent pressure-gauge guy is there because Hank couldn’t find a competent man for the job. And we’re also supposed to infer that this sorry state of affairs is caused by some combination of: (a) the strikers recruiting competent lower-level workers at a surprisingly high rate (like Owen Kellogg and the nameless brakeman in the opening chapter; maybe there are thousands or millions like them?); and (b) competent workers not being produced because Hugh Akston quit, leaving the field of education to incompetents like Simon Pritchett (in Part III, Rearden will internally monologue on this point).

  • Doug Langley

    “… maybe there are thousands or millions like them?” Wow, John Galt sure gets around. Amazing how much vacation time you accumulate as an unskilled laborer.

    Seriously, if the strikers caused this condition, shouldn’t Fransisco feel apologetic for this? He certainly shouldn’t assist Reardon, as Jeff pointed out, since that violates his oath. Or he’s a superhero who can’t stop himself from helping people.

    But it all gets back to the big problem I’ve had with Atlas Shrugged, the one thing that kill the entire story for me. How can you say that terrible things are deliberately caused by the heroes as “the highest moral virtue”? If heroes do them, how are they terrible? If they’re terrible, how can heroes do them? That’s where the story crashes into contradiction.

  • Cerebus36

    “Check your premises”, Doug. ;)

    How incompetent do you have to be to be able to read a pressure gauge properly? Did they not train this guy at all? It almost sounds like he didn’t receive any training. (It actually sounds like *no one* at Reardon Metal got any type of real on-the-job training.) If he didn’t get trained, then he actually cannot be blamed for his incompetence. It’s his boss or whoever was responsible for showing him the ropes that’s to blame. Not to mention Hank Reardon himself. His current batch of employees may not be the hyper-competent people, he, Dagny and Francisco, et al are, but they could surely be trained to do their jobs in a half-way decent manner? And certainly they’d want to be properly orientated about their jobs. Their lives are potentially at stake. Are we to suppose they’re actually Too Dumb to Live?

  • Cerebus36

    While we’re talking about the Big Flaws with “Atlas Shrugged”, mine is the central premise that all the Randian Superheroes are going “on strike”. (Ayn Rand/John Galt badly misuse and misunderstood what that phrase meant. Galt [and vicariously Ayn Rand] admit to redefining the term, however.) Either the number of Hyper Competent Capitalists is a small number (almost have to be to live in Atlantis/Galt’s Gulch/Midas’ Valley) or there’s a helluva lot of them. In addition to making sense in terms of where they all ultimately plan to live, a small number makes sense since it could more easily escape the public eye. A Super-Tycoon here, another over here, wouldn’t really catch that much attention. But if it’s so many that Taggart Transcontinental and Reardon Meal are hurting for good workers, then the American people would very definitely notice this. It’d be too big to cover up or explain away convincingly. (Worse, if they are follow Galt’s lead, then they are no longer working in their fields of specialty, but are working as common laborers. Except, most of them would already be common laborers!)

    The biggest problem that keeps bugging me is… Okay, let’s say McDonald’s suddenly decides to close down. Just walk and go on an Ayn Rand strike. Does that mean there will no longer be any double cheeseburgers available to the public or the ones that are made will be burgers filled with moldy cheese, meat filled with e. Coli on a moldy bun? No. Burger King steps up and becomes the dominant fast food chain. And if Burger King goes on strike, then Wendy’s or Dairy Queen takes the lead. And so on, until we just have local burger joints making decent double cheeseburgers. Won’t be a Micky D’s, but it won’t be complete crap either.

    But in “Atlas Shrugged”, we’re supposed to believe that only Ellis Wyatt is competent at drilling oil. Only Ken Danneger is competent at mining coal. Only Lawrence Hammond makes great cars. Only Taggert Transcontinental provides great train service. Only Reardon Metal provides superior steel, etc, etc. That so isn’t how the Real World works. In Real Life, there are generally too many *good* alternatives for the loss of one business in a field to damn the rest of that field to mediocrity.

  • Doug Langley

    “Are we to suppose they’re actually Too Dumb to Live?”

    Yep. Exactly. That’s what AS says, loud and clear.

    But that brings us to the question you raised. If the Reardons are the hyper-geniuses and everyone else nincompoops, then the only way Reardon can run his mill is to tell everyone else what to do. If Reardon doesn’t, then it’s his fault. But the passage doesn’t say anything about whether or not Reardon told this guy how to do his job. If so, then the worker was certainly at fault. (I’m a college instructor, and believe me, there are some students I can explain things till I’m blue in the face and they still do it completely wrong.)

    Granted, Rand does allow for the existence of half geniuses, the Owen Kellogs and Eddie Willers, who can do some things on their own, but it’s hard to find them in the story.

    Check out Frank Gilbreth as immortalized in “Cheaper By the Dozen”. He made a fortune telling workers how to do their jobs cuz they allegedly couldn’t do it right on their own.

  • Doug Langley

    If Rand just wanted to show us how the different industries work, then I’d give her a pass for depicting just one person running each. But as soon as she starts talking about competition, each businessman is indispensable, etc, then, you’re right, it’s not valid.

    And it’s really absurd for the heroes to preach the glories of competition when everyone else is such a dolt that there’s no competition at all.

  • Either the number of Hyper Competent Capitalists is a small number (almost have to be to live in Atlantis/Galt’s Gulch/Midas’ Valley) or there’s a helluva lot of them.

    Rand said at one point that there were at most a thousand people in Galt’s Gulch. The fewer of them there are, the more believable it is that John Galt could have gathered them all, of course; but it’s correspondingly less believable that subtracting such a small number of people would cause the collapse of the entire world economy.

  • julezyme

    Ugh, this book. My great grandfather was a coal miner 100 years ago in West VA. He was trapped in a cave-in with a few other men and some mules. They rescued the mules first, then the men. The mules were taken straight to the vet but they waited a day to see whether any of then men would live before taking the survivors to the hospital. Why? Well, mules were expensive, but there was an endless supply of cheap Hunkies. *That’s* what life was like under the robber barons’ unfettered “capitalism” (i.e. industry monopolization).
    I mean, what did trade unions ever do for anyone, right?

  • Jeff

    Why would he spend money on a hydraulic gun? Presumably, because the evil looters have passed onerous regulations that require basic safety equipment to be readily available in places where it’s reasonable to expect they’d be needed on occasion.

    I mean, we *have* this already, and it’s pretty well non-controversial. Kitchens are required to have fire extinguishers handy. Gas stations are required to have emergency shutoff valves. Cars have flasher lights in case they need to stop unexpectedly. Even if these things weren’t required by law, they still make so much sense and are so non-burdensome that it’s crazy to think anyone wouldn’t have them anyway.

    Apparently not in Randworld, though. Hundreds of ridiculous regulations that plainly serve no useful purpose, but not a single thing to advocate for the most basic emergency preparedness. And I don’t doubt that Hank and Dagny and the rest would be incredibly resentful of the moochy looters forcing them to spend a pittance to protect their very valuable equipment.

  • Azkyroth

    …but McDonald’s IS complete crap.

    Bad example, but I suppose the point stands…

  • Cerebus36

    It might be complete crap, but McDonald’s is almost indisputably the leader in the hamburger fast food industry, which is why I mentioned it first.

  • Black Leaf

    Of course. More plot means less room for filibusters.

  • Doug Langley

    Reminds me of an article Rand wrote. She was complaining how some people approach philosophy with “lifeboat” examples – if there’s only space for one in the lifeboat, would you grab it or let the other person have it? (She never mentioned where she read this or who said it.) The whole article was a mass of evasion, as she tried to refute “lifeboat ethics” with ramblings about context, situation, results, blah blah blah.

    Of course, the whole issue became irrelevant the instant governments ordered ships to carry enough boats for everyone.

  • Doug Langley

    But, but . . . only quality sells! Crap can’t! Rand proved it!

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    How can you say that terrible things are deliberately caused by the heroes as “the highest moral virtue”? If heroes do them, how are they terrible? If they’re terrible, how can heroes do them? That’s where the story crashes into contradiction.

    Rand, as you probably know, thinks the terrible things aren’t really the fault of the strikers at all. They’re the fault of all the evil evaders who refuse to think and, by refusing to think, expose themselves as sub-human and therefore unfit for existence. The strikers are just refusing to protect the evil evaders from the consequences of their evasions. It’s justice, nothing more and nothing less, no contradictions here.

    Of course, any time you think up an ethical system that gives one person license to declare another sub-human and therefore unfit for existence, that should be a warning sign you have some serious re-thinking to do … but Rand blew right through that warning sign.

  • Cerebus36

    I guess this is one more thing Rand didn’t understand. Unless they are a part of the financial elite (the wealthy), people generally do not buy what is of the highest quality. They tend to purchase whatever is cheap and convenient; what will do for now. Items of the highest quality is often way outside their price range and is a luxury item. It’s not even a consideration to most of us.

  • Doug Langley

    Or what gets the most advertising, or captures the market . . .

    Microsoft software has left users crying for years, yet it’s grabbed the market. One look at my Windows 8 and it blows all Rand’s theories out of the water.

  • Elizar Bornsaine

    Why was the fireclay even there, if it had been supplanted by better technology and no one who worked there (except Rearden) knew how to use it?

  • Cerebus36

    For Rand, I’m sure the fireclay was more dramatic than using more advanced technology. Newer, better tech would not have allowed the bromance between Hank Rearden and Francisco D’Anconio to advance like it with the two men flinging clay at the molten metal. The trouble is, it does so by further making it unlikely “Atlas Shrugged” takes place in a future time, since an obsolete technique is employed to stop the disaster at the plant. More and more I’m beginning to realize that AS should be read as a work of surrealism.

  • Nerdsamwich

    Pretty sure it would be Atles. Pronounced AT-leez.

  • Psycho Gecko

    Which goes to show how Blazing Saddles was more true to real life than Atlas Shrugged.