Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Immovable Movers
Posted on 02/07/2009 11:11:19 AM PST by Publius
Dagny fails to get a straight answer from the president of the United Locomotive Works as to when she will get her diesel engines and what is the source of the delay. There is even a hint she is being impolite by asking these questions.
Upon returning to the office, Eddie Willers tells her that McNamara of Cleveland has gone out of business and disappeared.
Dagny walks home through the streets of New York, and along the way she encounters signs of the times. First, there is a shop where a radio speaker is broadcasting a classical music concert with a piece that is both atonal and pointless. Then a book store advertises a novel as the penetrating study of a businessmans greed. A theater shows a movie that is trivial. A couple leaves a nightclub drunk and staggering.
Arriving at her midtown apartment, Dagny puts on a recording of Richard Halleys Fourth Concerto, which leads to a flashback on the life and career of the composer who had disappeared eight years earlier after the triumph of his opera Phaeton. Reading the newspaper, she stumbles upon a picture of Francisco dAnconia, in town at his suite at the Wayne-Falkland Hotel for the purpose of dating a hat check girl and eating at a famous deli. Dagny drops the newspaper and silently sobs.
Jim Taggart awakens past noon to the sound of Betty Pope cleaning up in the bathroom after a night of meaningless sex. He brags to Betty that at this afternoons board meeting he will put Dagny in her place. He is interrupted by a hysterical phone call from Mexico. The Peoples State of Mexico has not only nationalized Franciscos San Sebastian Mines but Taggart Transcontinentals San Sebastian Line.
Jim puts the best face possible on this development at the board meeting. He takes credit for running substandard service with old equipment so that the Mexican government could not confiscate any useful assets of the railroad. Delegating blame, he asks the board to request the resignations of the consultant who recommended building the line and the railroads Mexican agent.
Upon returning to his office, Jim finds Orren Boyle waiting for him. Francisco has lost $15 million in the nationalization, and Jim and Orren want to find out how he plans to recover their investments. Jim asks for a meeting with Francisco only to be told that Francisco does not deign to meet with him because Jim bores him.
The National Alliance of Railroads passes an Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule aimed at curbing destructive competition. Railroads defined as newcomers to an area serviced by a senior railroad must shut down within nine months. They can instead build in blighted areas where there is no need for rail service because the prime purpose of a railroad was public service, not profit. Major railroads, however, were entitled to public support to help survive. Dan Conway of the Phoenix-Durango Railroad, the intended victim of the rule, shuffles out of the meeting chamber demoralized.
Jim brags to Dagny that he has taken Conway out of the game, and Dagny is furious. She goes to Conway and offers to help him against the looters, but he demurs, pointing out that the majority has made its decision and he doesnt have the right to buck it considering the tenor of the times. Who is John Galt? he asks. Conway tells Dagny that she needs to get the Rio Norte Line fixed up because its the only lifeline keeping Ellis Wyatt and the businessmen of Colorado going.
Returning to her office, she finds Ellis Wyatt himself barging in on her. He gives Dagny an ultimatum: in nine months time, either the railroad gives him the service he requires or he will take it down with him when its failure destroys him. Dagny tells him, You will get the transportation you need, Mr. Wyatt.
Dagny meets with Hank Rearden at his mill, asking him for a nine month delivery schedule for Rearden Metal rather than twelve, and Rearden agrees. He enjoys charging Dagny more for the rail, but Dagny has no problem with that. This is business, and she is not a moocher. The intent was for Colorado to save the railroad, but now the railroad must save Colorado. Hank sees their role as saving the country from its own lunacy, a lunacy that just has to be temporary. They understand each other: We havent any spiritual goals or qualities. All were after is material things. Dagny senses there will be a problem about that.
Railroads, Regulation and Competition
The early years of railroading saw competition that was vicious. It was not just that railroad men fought each other, they sought the aid of government in their battles. As soon as an operator of sufficient size built, operated and stabilized a line, he either acquired trackage rights over the line of a competitor, making him an ally, or acquired the competitor outright. This is how networks were built and Americas major railroads emerged.
In dealing with customers, railroads were predatory. This was standard behavior in the era after the War Between the States, a war in which American industry had defeated American plantation agriculture. Ellis Wyatt exclaims, You expect to feed off me while you can and to find another carcass to pick dry after you have finished mine. Wyatt is describing the world of Atlas Shrugged, but he could just as easily have been describing the second half of the 19th Century.
There is a saying in Buddhism known as the Law of Karma: The good or bad you do in a given lifetime will come back to you in that life or a future one. Americans prefer the pithier and more Protestant, What goes around, comes around. The predatory behavior of Americas railroads led to the Granger Movement which favored nationalization of the railroads. Outrage reached sufficient levels during the Cleveland Administration that Congress created the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate the railroads.
Once a commission is created to regulate something, it takes about two decades before the regulated gain enough influence to become the regulators. This is a natural process, a revolving door that circulates executives from regulated industries, lawyers, lobbyists, politicians and regulators themselves. On occasion it also involves the passing of cash. Over time the ICC became the tool by which major railroads kept competitors out of the game by building a bureaucratic structure impossible for any but the best legal minds to penetrate. As long as railroads were the key movers of people and goods, this structure provided stability. But it failed as soon as real competition emerged.
By the early 20th Century, the internal combustion engine prompted states and counties to build roads to make space for all the cars pouring out of Henry Fords plant. After World War I, this began in earnest and increased exponentially during the Depression when the federal government created make-work jobs building bridges and highways.
The building of roads created space for trucks to compete with trains. At first, Americas highway network was a collection of two-lane roads, and trucks were not able to compete well for long distance hauling. But the Interstate Highway System changed all that. Antiquated work rules, featherbedding and deferred maintenance led to Americas railroads tearing out much of their physical plant in the Sixties. Wall Street believed it might even be in the best interest of investors to shut down the railroads and move everything by truck over the new subsidized freeway network. Railroads not only didnt earn the cost of their capital, they were losing their shirts.
It was the Penn Central bankruptcy of 1970 that provided the reality check. The Penn Central, created in 1968 by the merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads, crashed so catastrophically that it took down all the railroads in the northeastern US.
The Penn Centrals (ex-Pennsylvania) Northeast Corridor was the single most important piece of transportation infrastructure in the area just as important as the New Jersey Turnpike and it ended up in the hands of the governments Amtrak, which had been created to preserve nationwide passenger rail service after the railroads had given up on it. Passenger trains had been subsidized by the Post Office via the mail contract, but in 1967 that had been shifted to the airlines. Government ownership was good for the Northeast Corridor but ended up being a major policy mistake.
The rest of the railroad infrastructure in the northeastern US ended up in the hands of the governments Conrail, which hemorrhaged money until the railroad sold off much of its branch network to short line operators. In 1986, the government sold Conrail back to Wall Street, and a decade later CSX and Norfolk Southern carved up Conrail between them.
The creation of a large number of short line railroads was one of the most important developments in railroading in the second half of the century. The Class I railroads had not been able to make money on these branch lines, but short line operators provided the kind of customer service the major railroads had long since forgotten. With short line operators making these branches profitable, the Class Is could turn their attention to hook-and-haul operations on major rail trunks.
In 1980, Rep. Harley Staggers (D-WV) wrote a bill that would replace the ICC with the Surface Transportation Board and finally deregulate the railroads. Following its enactment, by the end of 1980 all major railroads were profitable again. This set off a wave of mergers that is still ongoing. Competition is stiff, and each railroad feels a need to chivy its competitors out of every last available scrap of cargo while the trucking industry continues to eat the railroads lunch.
Until recently, Americas railroads had been loath to accept government money to fix up their infrastructure because of a terrible fear of Open Access, which the government might demand as its price. This would require the railroads to dispatch the trains of competitors on their tracks for a fee.
However, Norfolk Southern has accepted government money to crown-mine the tunnels on its Norfolk-to-Chicago route so they can handle double-stack containers, the latest innovation in railroading. NS is also looking at government money to expand the capacity of its I-81 line from Harrisburg to Chattanooga to take trucks off that saturated interstate, and CSX is looking for money to fix up its lines that parallel I-95 and I-85 in the South. (Its fascinating that the states of the Old Confederacy are far ahead of their brethren in understanding the role of rail in hauling cargo efficiently.)
Today there exists the Association of American Railroads, which lobbies before Congress. It has none of the monolithic power of the National Alliance of Railroads, but there is a sentence in the book that refers to laws enacted by the National Legislature that the alliance appears to be enforcing. Much like the old ICC, its practical goal is to protect current operators against upstarts, but its a voluntary association. Dan Conway was a signatory, and he believes that he must, if necessary, sacrifice himself for the greater good.
Some Discussion Topics
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Our First Freeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Theme
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Chain
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Top and the Bottom
I know that most are far ahead of this chapter, and many have finished the book with bleary eyes because they couldnt stop reading. No problem. Id suggest that those who are ahead of the rest of us read at their own pace, but go back to the chapter under discussion and read it slowly and thoroughly. Rands book is thickly textured and worth a second, closer read.
Far be it from me to say this but in the context of this day and age, it is not a case of a dated “Atlas Shrugged” but one of a case where “America Got Punk’d”.
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To new thread-joiners, it’s worth noting that although Ayn Rand was clearly an intelligent and prescient woman, much of her writing bears the hallmarks of 19th century intellectualism; although her writing is superficially opposed to Marx, it is similar in many functional ways.
She reputedly loathed Ronald Reagan and other great conservative leaders, not only communists.
She was a devout atheist, jumping on that bandwagon as many early 20th century intellectuals did.
I am seeing conservatives defend abortion/drugs/porn, or whatever their sin is, by calling themselves a “randian”, and denigrating “social conservatives”. This is folly. No culture has ever survived the destruction of their ethics, whether by calling it “socialism”, or by calling it “randianism”. The end result is the same.
However, she was a clear thinker, and there’s clearly a lot most people could learn by reading her work. But personally I would be aware of potential 19th-century-style atheistic bias.
Not one of the discussion topics, (and also a bit before this term is used in the book, but not a spoiler so....) this week when I read Pres. Obama’s speech in Virginia, he referred to the “National Emergency”, I swear, the blood drained from my face.
National emergencies give government an excuse to violate the Constitution and burst its bounds. As Rahm Emmanuel said, “We wouldn’t want to waste a crisis, would we?”
The chief problems I had with this otherwise delightful and empowering work was it's notable lack of crowds and children. Obviously, the actions of crowds are on display, as is Mob Rule, but you rarely encounter the Mob and almost never are there any children in the book, except in flashbacks to Dagny's youth, etc. This is, indeed, the world of Atlas Shrugged.
While the book has been empowering in the sense that it demonstrates the logic of dementia as a self-defeating process, the Sanctuary of the Disappeared is purely wishful thinking. More often in failed democracies, the Sanctuary of the Disappearados is the quiet peace of the Mass Grave.
As a mataphor of the General Strike and peaceful non-cooperation with Tyranny, it is far more hopeful.
No problems with the context of the book.....I just think there are additional factors here that really couldn’t have been considered here given the extremes to which this entitlement population has gone to recently.
I liked the rich and successful guy who dropped out of the rat race because of such high taxes and the parasites on society. He went someplace and opened a hamburger joint where he made really good hamburgers. - Maybe my husband and I will go somewhere, set up a coffee roaster shop called “JOE’S” and serve coffee, bagels and cream cheese and other snacks, make just enough to eat and clothe ourselves - make the best cup of coffee anywhere around - and live out our days at that. - Right now we’re on a sort of homestead with our own firewood, a garden, fruit trees and bushes, house paid for, some food storage (although it needs upgrading), a well, a woodstove, so it’s kind of hard to think about leaving that self-reliant sort of life. Sigh. We’re in our sixties, husband will soon be eligible to “draw” social security, but really who knows what’s what with that and we don’t even really want to do that anyway; just more at the old sow’s teat.
I'm just looking for a Galt's Gulch to hide in while I run our FReeper Book Club.
What an excellent juxtaposition. What we have here in all of these symbols is power wasted or power wasted away. The glory of a tree, the grandeur of a view, the greatness of a machine, all for naught. In every case, we the reader, are left with a feeling of doom that if these obviously valuable assets are allowed to wane into ruin, what else will this society allow to deteriorate?
Another possible relation would be the character of Doc. A man who is also allowed to go to waste -- he doesn't even bother to order a new typewriter beause he will know it will be worthless. Why bother? Again, as mentioned before, it is indicative of the moral rot - and the vision of the tree slowly rotting from the inside, while still appearing to be strong reminds me sadly of our own nation.
As you can see, in this chapter I'm asking hard questions that require some serious thought and good writing skills. I'm not surprised that reaction to this thread is so slow. But I know this group is capable of that kind of searching thought. This is a band of FReepers that can rise to this challenge. I have faith.
Excellent observation. Now dig deeper. Why is this so? What prompts people to not gave a damn about their jobs? Why is there no fear of retribution from management?
You've uncovered the tip of an iceberg that connects the world of Atlas Shrugged to today's world. Let's throw some sunlight on that iceberg.
IIRC, there were all of two children in Galt’s Gulch, and Dagny’s comment was that they seemed different from children outside of Galt’s Gulch. Their mother explained that as being they were not afraid of what they had being taken from them, they were being raised with reason. Again, this bit relies on my faulty memory. No way I’m going to read that tedious tome again!
You can ask your question from the opposite way — what makes people give a damn about their jobs?
i think people care about their jobs when they have a stake in the outcome, either financially or in a sense of group pride. The attitude that “I do my job but nothing more” that is pervasive in this book and in places today may be indicative of a lack of locus of control - things happen to us, we do not affect things
A true conservative DEMANDS locus of control. By god, we WILL be in charge of our destiny and we will REFUSE to allow events to wash over us.
This is why I love this assignment I've undertaken. FReepers possess an intellectual curiosity lacking in much of the country and have no problem turning a question inside out.
i think people care about their jobs when they have a stake in the outcome, either financially or in a sense of group pride.
I've seen both in one place. I like to ride across the USA via Amtrak. On any given train, I'll run across people who do their best and care about their jobs. At the same time, I'll run across employees who don't care at all.
I've even seen this in the private sector. I've managed people who took their jobs seriously and those who were time servers, all at a place where there was no union protection.
I've noticed that some companies have a corporate culture that is entrepreneurial, while others are bureaucratic. This has always been an indicator (for me) as to what to expect from employees.
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