This chapter brings us to a recurrent topic in AS, that of "fairness" and how that ambiguous phrase is used to cover a grand rhetorical con game. One hears it in the mouths of both sides, the bad guys somewhat more often than the good, but what they mean by it is two very different things. Just as no two cultures agree on the definition of the term "justice" (more on that one later) they don't agree on "fair."
In the mouths of Rand's protagonists the term "fair" might be considered interchangeable with "merited" or "earned"; that is, one's desserts being a function of one's actions. In the mouths of such as James Taggart it represents an equitable division of material possessions regardless of one's actions: meritless. Rand considers the latter immoral and I am inclined to agree.
This is the fundamental philosophical conflict between the two sides. The notion that material possessions are somehow "naturally" evenly distributed is central to such systems as Marxism, (that state of nature existing nowhere in fact but between the theoretician's ears). It is a premise central to collectivist approaches at building a society, and its corollaries are (1) that inequities of such distribution are undesirable and constitute theft by the individual from the collective, and (2) that it is the proper function of authority to remediate them.
This sort of "fairness" is reminiscent of my parents doling out blocks to my brother and myself - a game we used to call "twofer" as in "two for you, two for you," - which is a perfect metaphor for the socialist view of private property in general, to be held in the name of the collective and doled out to its individual members as deemed desirable by those entrusted to lead - the cadre, if you will. "Fair" here is to be taken however that authority chooses to define it. It is equitable only in theory - in practice never turns out that way as commentators from Orwell to Djilas have shown. Ironically, the ones calling most for this sort of "fairness" tend to be not the disadvantaged, but the advantaged, and the reason isn't that they want more material possessions, but that they want the power to distribute them. That sort of "fairness" is always arbitrary, and the power of arbitration is the power to rule.
Contrasted to this is Rand's view that "fairness" in the distribution of material goods is a function of creative activity and that those who manage it by jobbing the system are the thieves - "moochers and looters," as she puts it. It is easy to envisage Mouch and James Taggart as moochers, useless parasites on a system that heretofore could muster the surplus necessary to support them. The death of the host is in the interest of no competent parasite.
In fact, they are not. To Rand they truly are looters, and the death of the host is inconsequential to them so long as the system may be maintained. It is the system, and not the looters, that Atlas must shrug from his shoulders.
Clearly the roots of economic value within this system are creative activity, the likes of Taggart adding little value to the product but a good deal of cost. At first glance this skirts the Ricardan/Marxian Labor Theory of Value (Marx insisted it was a definition, not a theory, and refused to debate it as the latter). In fact, under the strict laissez-faire capitalism that is the root of Rand's system a commodity is worth what it takes to acquire it, and nothing more. There is, in fact, room for mooching and looting there, which is probably why all economic systems tend to display them. It is unclear that they necessarily would be absent from the post-Shrug world of Galt's Gulch writ large, but more of that later.
Substitute the phrase "social justice" for "fairness" and we may read precisely this case in every day's newspapers. Inequities in the distribution of material goods are presented as the results of systemic theft, "institutional racism," "Whiteness studies," and a host of other neologisms - and it is the putative responsibility of authority to remediate them. It's a pity Rand didn't name one of AS's villains "Jesse Jackson," or "Cornel West" because they belong there. IMHO, of course.
Sorry - “Whiteness Studies” = “Whiteness.”