Signet New American Library, 1996. (First published 1957). ISBN 0-451-19114-5

Ayn Rand was born in St Petersburg, Russia in 1905. After graduating from the University of Petrograd in 1924 she witnessed first hand the disintegration of free enquiry and the take-over of the university by communist thugs.

Atlas Shrugged shows communism / socialism in action with it's hopeless central planning, politics of rationing, "for the people" double talk, resentiment and destruction of anything resembling free enterprise or success.

It may appear rather fantastic looking from the vantage point of a functioning free market democracy but the picture we have of the U.S.S.R. prior to its collapse shows it to be true. I witnessed hard core socialism at work in the British governments of the late 1970's and the "profit as crime" idea and the "nationalisation of all means of production" as official Labour party policy.

These were catastrophic times for the British economy with spiralling inflation and collapsing industry and employment and Ayn Rand takes this reality to imagine a hardcore communist / socialist government in the United States.

The interesting twist is that in her American People's State the so called "exploiters" decide to go on strike themselves. The best entrepreneurs, managers, professionals and industrialists refuse to be demonised and ruined and simply disappear or take simple menial work, leaving the central planners to order themselves around in circles while the economy drifts into chaos and dictatorship.

Rand catches Nietszche's "resentiment" idea very well. The work of communist or religious groups manipulating the poor or unsuccessful to demand Rights to Status on the basis of the stated Guilt of Success (i.e. the crime of being better at anything than the average - not one of the People) and she shows the Marxist dogma of "From each according to his ability. To each according to his need" in its socially destructive real life form.  (top)

She sees the economy as based on something like the 80/20 rule with a 80% of of innovation, invention and production coming from 20% of the people. She is unashamedly elitist and wants to celebrate successful inventors, innovators and industrialists and present people with exceptional abilities as heroes for the rest of society.

In Atlas Shrugged, these heroes are represented by a cast of characters such as Henry Rearden the industrialist/inventor and John Galt, the engineer/inventor. They create and escape to a hidden mountain paradise that is just a little too perfect. They are all enlightened, morally righteous people seemingly putting the lie to the fact that in real life successful industrialists come in all types including political manipulators, monopolists and cheaters.

Equating success with moral goodness really doesn't hold water and she makes it worse by describing her "stars" as a "new nobility" with the corresponding put down of the (simple shop girl) regular worker. She's clearly captivated by the idea of society being run by a star/elite class and the book has virtually nothing to say about Democracy other than a comment on the risk of allowing a vote to the brainless worker.

She doesn't allow that the early Communists and Fascists both saw themselves as elites prior to removing the right to vote and free speech by force, and her lack of sympathy for an ordinary non-political, not particularly gifted worker is quite striking. Contrast this with Sam Walton's (Wal Mart) biography "Made in America" where he is marvellously successful at motivating and including the kind of workers that she couldn't care less about.

Ayn Rand is probably right in that small groups of talented innovators make a free society rich - but working within Democracy. Also, there are some people who really do need the guarantee of government help (not just the private charity that she proposes). Orphans, the mentally ill and the aged poor come to mind.

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