Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'll stimulate your economy.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 71-111

In this section, we learn that the board of the National Railroad Association has decided to pass an "anti-dog-eat-dog" ruling that forbids competition among the railroads of America. Dagny Taggert is very much against this, of course, being a properly capitalist businesswoman. She and her major competitor in Colorado have an incredibly transparent discussion about how wrong it is to control a free market with artificial rules. (I have to say, maybe it's because I know the book is a great Objectivist treatise, but I found this part pretty heavy-handed. It's all "black and white, right and wrong, free markets are good and everything else is bad". There's no middle ground. It's as though Rand is so desperate to prove that capitalism is the best way to do things that she's begun on the rabid, fanatic defensive before we've even had a chance to interpret the situation.) Anyway, so we've got that happening, and also the rail line to Mexico that was under threat of nationalization has, in fact, been nationalized. Though the event should have proved to James Taggert that Dagny's right about how to run the company, instead he persists in being an idiot, both blaming her and taking credit for the decisions she made that minimized the financial losses that resulted from the nationalization.

At the same time, a large Mexican mining interest that we've learned belongs to an old friend of the Taggert family has also been nationalized, but, to the great chagrin of the Mexican government, the mines contain nothing of value. Dagny, upon learning this fact, sets up a meeting with that old friend, Francisco D'Anconia, regardless of the fact that they've been estranged for years. Dagny hasn't actually gotten to the meeting yet, because Rand is giving us the entire history of her relationship with Francisco (called Frisco for short) before she gets there. They played together as children, it seems, and were both equally determined to excel in their family businesses, consistently one-upping each other in good spirit throughout their young lives. In their teens, they fell into a relationship of sorts, providing each other's first sexual experience. Later, still romantically involved, Dagny witnessed the moment when Frisco discovered that pure, intense profit-seeking is not necessarily the way to win friends and influence people, as it were.

That's right where we are right now - it seems like he's about to confess that he simply can't play the overarching, cutthroat game of business anymore. (Again, a bit heavy-handed. We're seeing Frisco, once full of energy and even genius, broken by the inconsistency of a society that rewards something other than pure profit-seeking. It seems as though we're going to watch his life and worth be completely destroyed by all this, which seems a little ridiculous to me. I get the message, Ayn. At least I think. Maybe I'll be wrong, and she'll actually surprise me.) There was an excellent moment when Dagny and Frisco have their first romantic encounter, where Rand describes Dagny's feelings as existing in that place between wanting Frisco to be the aggressor, to take her and kiss her and make her his, and wanting to be free, to pull away from him and assert her independence and her female strength. That was a description that really hit home. I don't know if it applies to every woman, but it certainly resonated with my personal experience.

It's also interesting to think about this in the light of the recent developments in the American free market, and the pseudo-nationalization of the car companies and banking system. I don't have stunning economic insights about either of those or their relationships with Objectivism, largely because I have a poor understanding of the complex details of what's happening to the banks right now, but nonetheless.


  1. You do realize this book is intended as a statement of the Objectivist philosophy first and foremost, and is in novel form just to make it more accessible to the masses? Great literature it ain't, and wasn't intended to be. (Do intentions count to critics?)

  2. She only gets more heavy-handed. I don't want to spoil too much, but wait til you meet John Galt.

    She is quite the compelling writer though, I will admit.

  3. In retrospect I'd have to say this book has done a lot to impress upon me how easy it is to be taken in by propaganda.



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