An appreciation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on the theme of money
In Atlas Shrugged the heroes want to make money while the villains want on the surface atleast to have money. What is the difference between the two views of money? Explain your answer to actual events in the book.
The most fundamental difference between the heroes Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, John Galt, Francisco D`Anconia, Ellis Wyatt, Ragnar Danneskjold, and others and the villains James Taggart, Wesley Mouch, Bertram Scudder, Orren Boyle, Mr. Thompson, Dr. Prichett, Dr. Ferris, the People’s States (especially Mexico), the rest of the Rearden family and others is one of personal belief. The heroes represent the side of the anarcho-capitalists. They are men and women of superlative ability and have and unwincing conviction in the power of productive effort and its reward- money. They represent Ayn Rand’s ideas of “The Heroic in Man.” The villains represent the believers of the altruist collective premise, the looters and moochers of money.
The heroes believe that earning money is the highest form of virtue. But the villains believe that any man can earn money by right and wrong methods or by unproductive or destructive effort. They believe that earning money is a vulgar exercise and people who earn it by their own mind and merit are simply anti-social vulgar moneybags. But hypocritically, they want money and try to get it by unfair methods since they lack sufficient ability to be productive. The conversation between James Taggart and Francisco D`Anconia highlights this.
‘I intend to raise the production of D`Anconia Copper by 100% as compared to ancestors who raised it by a 10% in their lifetimes.’ said Francisco D`Anconia
‘What for?’ said James.
‘When I die I hope to go to heaven- whatever the hell that is- and I want to be able to afford the price of admission.’
‘Virtue is the price of admission’
‘That is what I mean, James. So I want to be prepared to claim the greatest virtue of all- that I was a man who made money.’
‘Any grafter can make money.’
But as we all know any grafter cannot make money. Or do we? James Taggart and his friends were also very rich weren’t they?
The difference lies in the method of earning money and the productiveness of their effort while earning effort. James is a typical example of an unproductive inheritor of a vast fortune whose only skills are making friends, public relations and conspiring to bring down successful businessmen with the government while Dagny actually runs Taggart Transcontinental and is actually tries to add to her inheritance. While Dagny Taggart tries to save the company from her brother James’ follies as he tries to destroy his competitors using the power of the collective pull down tactics.
For example, what right did James Taggart have to try to shut down Dan Conway’s Phoenix-Durango line by using his collective clout with the National Association of Railways? A better and more efficient railway line than Taggart Transcontinental was shut down only because Taggart Transcontinental was already running the same route many years before. So here when inheritance rules over merit and no competition how can there be efficient and optimum utilization of resources? This is a criminal waste of other people’s money and unproductive use of James Taggart’s money.
In a country like the United States of America which epitomizes private property and competition how could this be legal? Using rhetorical statements like “railways are destroying each other”, “the brutal policy of dog eats dog” and “public welfare being threatened due to shortages in transportation”, James achieves his goals.
But when an efficient individual is marked for death by an inefficient sector, when individual rights are subordinated to ‘collectivized rights and when rhetoric rules rather than logic how much can a single man at times fight?
You don’t have to be a genius to notice the differences between Dan Conway and James Taggart and their methods to earn money, their “investments” and their morality.
Only after ten long years of research in metallurgy did Hank Rearden discover Rearden Metal. Just imagine the arduous process, the heat, the pain, the sleepless nights, the frustration but most importantly the will. After so much would anyone sell their own creation to a useless government undertaking unable to produce a single decent piece of research called the State Science Institute and wolfshead like Dr. Ferris? Just when one has seen the potential of one’s own creation as when one sees his own creation in one’s own image could it have a price? When sky is the limit money stacked as high as a skyscraper is not enough.
Through blackmail and psychological torture they got their Miracle metal. But there are no miracles, only the illusion of miracles. Discovering something new is a process of rational and objective thought and using that new something is a process of entrepreneurial and organizational skills which the State Science Institute woefully lacked in both aspects.
As Francisco tells Rearden, “Did you want to see Rearden Metal used by whining rotters who never rouse themselves to any effort, who do not possess the ability of a filing clerk, but demand the income of a company president, who drift from failure to failure and expect you to pay their bills, who hold their wishing as an equivalent of your work and their need as a higher claim to reward than your effort, who demand that you serve them, who demand that it be the aim of your life to serve them, who demand that your strength be the voiceless, rightless, unpaid, unrewarded slave of their impotence, who proclaim that you are born to serfdom by reason of your genius, while they are born to rule by the grace of their incompetence, that yours is only to give, but theirs is only to take, that yours is only to produce, but theirs to consume, that you are not to be paid, neither in spirit, neither by wealth nor by recognition nor by respect nor by gratitude-so that they ride on your rail and sneer at you and curse you, since they owe you nothing, not even the effort of taking off their hats which you paid for? Would this be what you wanted? Would you feel proud of it?”
At another instance, Francisco answers Ayn Rand’s immortal query, “If money is the root of all evil, what is the root of money?”
He says that money is a tool of exchange which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Those pieces of paper are a token of honor-your claim upon the energy of men who produce. You accept money and exchange money earned on your efforts and for the efforts of others. This principle gives it value. But money is an innocent medium. It will never be the driver. It will go wherever you take it.
He adds if you look at the electric generator and would you dare to ask yourself that it was the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Man’s mind is the root of all goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth. Wealth is man’s capacity to think. Money is made before it is mooched or looted. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders. Money demands that you work for your own benefit, for their gain and that you must offer them values. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reasons. It demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but that the best that your money can offer. When men live by trade-with reason, not force, as their final arbiter-it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the men of best judgment and highest ability-and the degree of man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money.
He also adds that money is the tool of your survival. Those who damn money have obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it. Money is the life-blood of civilization. Whenever destroyers appear amongst men, they start by destroying money, for money is men’s protection and the base of moral protection.
The villains are these destroyers. The do not believe in these last three paragraphs. They wanted unearned money, without struggle or effort. They wanted to take money from the movers of the world with a gun on their heads. After all, having, stealing, taking, looching or mooching money is not the same as making or earning money. The villains prefer the former and the heroes prefer the latter.
Finally, John Galt’s incident at the Twentieth Century Motor Company highlights what would happen in a world dominated by the looters and the moochers. What happens when each would work according to his ability is paid according to his need. There would be mob rule and the people would lose their respect for each other. People with ability will hide it. People who worked hard will turn into cry babies by magnifying their problems. People will only have problems and not solutions. The rulers can easily fool them and easily mooch or looch their money and live an extravagant life. This is the kind of world the villains want and the heroes go on strike to avoid.