Upon Reading the First Half of Atlas Shrugged

645,000 words. 1200 pages. Ayn Rand’s classic epic, first published in 1957, is not for the faint of heart. It requires time, patience, and – in my opinion – a thoughtful demeanor to allow it to resonate.

I’ve been wanting to read it for years. I had even bought a paperback copy and had it sitting impressively on the shelf for five years. A few months back, I decided that it would be my goal, my task, my yearlong commitment, if need be, to actually read the thing.

Well, I’m nearly halfway through it. And my thoughts?

It’s remarkable. The prose is not the most elegant. It can get bogged down at times with a lot of details. But my goodness, it’s easy to see why this novel has had such a profound impact on the 20th century. And reading this with pandemic America and runaway bureaucracy and businesses struggling to find workers as the backdrop, it is almost frightening to realize how this book saw into the future.

First the terrific title. What would happen if that which holds the world on its back (Atlas) decided to shrug with indifference one day? What would happen if the innovators were forced out of the market? What would happen if the great men and women of industry would cease to produce? What would happen if the visionaries of society would no longer – or perhaps more precisely – no longer be allowed to pursue their dreams? What would it do to prosperity? How would it affect society?

There are some truly remarkable passages that I have dog-eared so I can revisit at some point. Some that have sparked writing ideas of my own. Others which are stewing in my mind as I try to understand their philosophical underpinnings.

This is a book of passion: passion for work, passion for love, passions between two of the remaining pillars of industry who will not be bullied into kneeling to the alter of sacrifice for the common good. Because they know, that sacrifice for the common good never achieves its goal. It’s the great debate of intentions vs results. Intentions to improve society mean nothing if those actions actually end up destroying it in the end. You know, the old saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

There are some amazing speeches in this novel. A couple I wouldn’t mind memorizing myself and developing them into dramatic soliloquys. The messages of these speeches are unmistakably modern. Speaking directly to the vast entrenched bureaucracy which has been conditioned to ignore such messages and warnings.

I have chosen to read it slowly. I’m glad I did. I’m always eager to continue, but I also like to pause and allow it to ruminate. That’s a mark of a truly great book.

As I wade into its second half to truly discover “Who is John Galt,” I can’t help but thinking, with a sigh, where is John Galt? The world of 2021 might need your services.

(Full review when finished – Give me a few months.)

Bernie Sanders has a big problem with something. And so do I.

I’ve never met Bernie Sanders. He seems like a nice guy. He seems sincere and consistent in what he has believed in all of these years. I have a friend in Vermont who says nice things about him. I believe her.

But over the course of this presidential campaign season, as I listened closely to what he was saying, I realized that I could never vote for Bernie Sanders for president. The reason? I just flat-out disagree with him.

I’ll start with this video clip of one of his interviews. This, in a nutshell, illustrates one of the more poignant reasons why I could never be a Sanders supporter.

Sanders Video

Now, if you didn’t watch the video, that’s okay. Let me briefly explain. Hillary Clinton has been receiving some flack lately because of the millions of dollars she’s pulled in over the past couple of years in speaking fees — hundreds of thousands of dollars for a one hour speech. Her defense for accepting such an outrageous amount was, “They offered that much.” Sanders, in the video, says how he has a real problem with someone accepting $200,000 (or more) from an hours worth of work.

That is why I couldn’t ever vote for Sanders.

Still not clear?

Let me explain by using a situation that came up in my American Government class quite a few years ago. I had one student give a speech based on an article that she had read, and her basic premise is that sports stars should not receive such high salaries because “It’s only a game”, “It’s not ultimately important”, and “There are other people in the world who could use that money more than them.”

At the end of the speech, I opened it up for questions, and I was eager to ask one of my own. I asked:

“So who should get it?”

“What?”

“Who should get the money? You said that sports stars shouldn’t be paid that much. So if they don’t get the money, who should?”

She wasn’t sure how to respond or, perhaps, what I was getting at.

I told her to take a sport, any sport. I chose baseball because that’s what I do. I asked her to think about the revenue streams in baseball. You have ticket sales, concessions, media contracts, multi-media rights, memorabilia, and a host of other ways for any particular club to earn money. When all of that money is added together, it becomes a staggering amount of cash – billions of dollars created by fans who want to see the entertainment of baseball. It’s the same in every other professional sport. So there are some 800 players who generate billions of dollars worth of entertainment. All of it is taxed by the government, so they get their share, but what to do with the rest. If, as my student contended, the athletes themselves shouldn’t get the money, then who should? The owners? I’m sure the owners would be very happy to follow through on this student’s premise that the players are overpaid. They’d be happy to take the excess and pocket it because that’s the only other option: there’s the players and the owners. They create all of that revenue. They offer a product that the public wants. Then they use the revenue to live very well – yes – extremely well – well above the average Joe who works nine to five. They earned the money. The public paid for it. The government got their tax revenue. The people were entertained. Everyone is happy.

Is it fair? That’s not the right question to ask. It has nothing to do with fairness. Or maybe it does. Wouldn’t it be unfair for the owners and players not to get the money that they’ve created? In fact, there is only one other option in this scenario: Government intervention.

What does all of this have to do with Sanders? Plenty. What Sanders is saying is that there should be a limit on success. It’s possible to have too much success (though what is too much success in Sander’s mind is unclear. Is 100,000 per speech too much? 50,000? 10,000?). And even those who earned their success should be forced by the government to give up some of their success. He’s saying it’s a shame that private corporations use their privately earned money to lure top speakers to their events.

The only way you could stop a sports star from earning millions is for the government to stick their neck into a privately funded organization and tax them to death.

Likewise, the only way you could stop a corporation from paying six figures for a one-hour speech is for the government to step in and regulate how much a private corporation can spend at a private function.

These are dangerous economic thoughts.

So much has been said lately about the gentleness of Democratic Socialism compared to the Socialism we’ve seen in China or Vietnam. But when presidential candidates are spouting the exact same line of criticisms toward capitalistic endeavors that you would have heard during the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution, the real desires of Democratic Socialism are finally unmasked. The philosophical underpinnings of his positions are very clear.

I don’t want a president who wants to put a limit on success. I want a president who wants success for everyone, from the poor to the billionaire. And I certainly don’t want a president who tells private corporations how much success they can achieve because if they don’t find fertile business grounds under their own two feet, they’ll look for the greener grass overseas. And that’s not going to help anyone.

Let me get back to Hillary for one final thought. When Hillary was asked why she accepted so much for giving a speech, she responded: “That’s what they offered.” Good for her.

The company sees value in having her speak.

The company earned that money legally, so they can do what they want with it.

She could have accepted less, but why? If she didn’t receive it, the company would have spent it elsewhere to try to build value into their corporate vision, just like that of an owner of a sports team.

So Bernie and I see things differently. I do not have a problem with someone receiving $200,000 for a speech. I’d even probably give one myself if asked.