Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Sign of the Dollar
Posted on 05/30/2009 7:31:15 AM PDT by Publius
The Comet rolls across Nebraska with Dagnys private car in the consist. Dagny hears the shout of the conductor throwing a hobo off the vestibule of her car, but she rescues the hobo and asks him to be her dinner guest. He vaguely remembers her as the lady who ran a railroad, and he has been roaming the country for the past six months looking for work. Jobs are being hoarded for the friends of Unification Board members, and he is heading west to avoid them. Farmers arent happy to feed hobos, what with tax collectors and gangs of raiders deserters from their jobs on the prowl. As dinner arrives, the hobo tells of his last job at Hammond in Colorado but mentions that he is a survivor of the disaster at the Twentieth Century Motor Company, and boy, does he have a story to tell! It was he who invented the telltale question, Who is John Galt? And so begins a tale...
The Starnes heirs had made speeches in favor of The Plan, and although few understood it, most felt obligated to vote for it. Hadnt every newspaper and movie and public speech spoken in favor of such sentiments? The hobo compares it to pouring water into a tank while a pipe drains it out faster than you can fill it; then the more you fill it, the wider the drainpipe grows until you are working without rest or hope. Its a vision of hell.
Twice a year, the workers voted on whose need was foremost after all, werent they all one big family? Soon everyone became a beggar, valuing his miseries above those of his fellow workers. As production fell, the workers voted on who were the best workers and made them work even harder. People werent paid by time, but by need. People watched each other like hawks, hiding their abilities and making sure no one worked better or faster than themselves. One man came up with a process that saved thousands of man-hours, got himself labeled as exceptionally able and found himself sentenced to double shifts. They had been told that the world of capitalism was vicious, but it was nothing like this, where people competed to do the worst job possible. People turned to drink, and the only thing they made was babies because that increased their allowance. People brought in every sort of shiftless relative to increase their need. The Plan had been put in place to facilitate love and brotherhood, and now people hated each other, spying and informing at will. Sick family members became a bane, one of whom may have been murdered because she was a drain on the collective.
Eric Starnes became the Director of Public Relations and spent his time fraternizing with the workers to show that he was one of them. Gerald Starnes was Director of Production and spent entire fortunes on parties. Ivy Starnes was Director of Distribution and evaluated the needs of her workers, paying them as she saw fit on a scale of bootlicking.
The best men left and the company fell apart. Gerald went to customers demanding they buy from Twentieth Century, not because the motors were good, but because the workers needed the orders. After four years, the experiment ended and the company collapsed.
Back at that first meeting when The Plan was announced, a young engineer quit, refusing to accept Gerald Starnes moral order and announcing that he would put an end to it once and for all by stopping the motor of the world. His name was John Galt.
Dagny awakens to find the Comet stopped somewhere on the tracks of the Kansas Western, and no member of the crew is on the train. But Owen Kellogg is! They are on a frozen train, abandoned by the railroads employees. Dagny is actually elated that her employees have rejected serfdom, but is dejected when she sees that it was old reliable Pat Logan who was driving the coal burning steam locomotive. Dagny informs the passengers of what has happened, and she and Kellogg walk down the line to find a working phone box. The hobo, Jeff Allen, is hired on the spot as the new conductor to keep order on the train.
As they walk, Dagny offers Kellogg a job on the railroad, but he refuses; the only job he would want with the railroad is menial work. He is helping Dagny because he needs to get somewhere for a months vacation with friends. They reach the first phone to find its broken; they must march another five miles to the next one. Kellogg offers her a cigarette; it bears the sign of the dollar. He wont tell Dagny where the cigarettes come from, but tells her the dollar sign is the current symbol of depravity. Dagny wants to buy the pack, and Kellogg agrees to sell it to her for five cents in gold.
Dagny and Kellogg finally reach a phone box that works, but find themselves in a struggle over the phone with the night dispatcher of the Kansas Western who is afraid to do anything until Dagny takes responsibility for his actions.
A short distance from the tracks is a bright beacon that marks an airstrip on which sits a Dwight Sanders plane. The airport attendant is no smarter than the night dispatcher, so Dagny writes him a check for fifteen thousand dollars and darkly hints at a secret mission from important men in Washington. That gets her the plane. Dagny takes off for Utah in the darkness.
As the sun comes up, she lands near Afton, the home of Utah Tech, and looks for a rental car. But she quickly discovers that Quentin Daniels is just now taking off with a stranger who came for him a few hours earlier. Dagny realizes its The Destroyer! She jumps in her plane, takes off and follows them over Colorado. Just when she thinks the plane with Daniels should climb, it banks and prepares to land, but where? The landscape appears to be jagged peaks. Then the plane disappears entirely. Dagny drops and circles, trying to find the plane, but discovers that the view of the valley floor hasnt changed at all, and the light doesnt seem right. Its an image a hologram! As Dagny penetrates it, a bright flash of light hits her, and the planes engine dies. Dagny goes in for a dead stick landing. As she hurtles toward the ground, she says, Oh hell! Who is John Galt?
Ping! The thread is up.
FReeper Book Club: Introduction to Atlas Shrugged
Part I, Chapter I: The Theme
Part I, Chapter II: The Chain
Part I, Chapter III: The Top and the Bottom
Part I, Chapter IV: The Immovable Movers
Part I, Chapter V: The Climax of the dAnconias
Part I, Chapter VI: The Non-Commercial
Part I, Chapter VII: The Exploiters and the Exploited
Part I, Chapter VIII: The John Galt Line
Part I, Chapter IX: The Sacred and the Profane
Part I, Chapter X: Wyatts Torch
Part II, Chapter I: The Man Who Belonged on Earth
Part II, Chapter II: The Aristocracy of Pull
Part II, Chapter III: White Blackmail
Part II, Chapter IV: The Sanction of the Victim
Part II, Chapter V: Account Overdrawn
Part II, Chapter VI: Miracle Metal
Part II, Chapter VII: The Moratorium on Brains
Part II, Chapter VIII: By Our Love
Part II, Chapter IX: The Face Without Pain or Fear or Guilt
Being in a union is similar to communism in that it severs the cause-effect relationship of getting rewarded for superior work. Management is required to treat all workers as precisely interchangeable. Any preference is given on factors such as seniority and sometimes "pull" that bear little if any connection to the quality or quantity of work produced, and most insidiously, over which one has no immediate control. There's no proper way to better your own situation.
Now I'd say a bad union shop is ideologically about halfway around to the fully Communist management method being tried at 20th Century. Superior performance is still viewed as more desirable in theory, but this just leads to disrespect for any who excel in quantity or quality, because it might raise the performance bar for everyone else.
Now that's in a bad shop. I've also been around union shops in which most were pretty good people who were skilled and did very good work. But it wasn't BECAUSE it was a union shop, it was because they were good people, and avoided the pitfalls the union atmosphere might lead to.
In a sense I have a soft spot for unions conceptually, because to say unions shouldn't exist is to say that management, which surely has the advantage over any one individual, should have to face no equalization in their bargaining power, which seems wrong. As an example I worked in a small consulting business, the vice president of which made a negative comment about unionization and that it was bad because it made it impossible to reward the best employees. BUT, his company had a deal with two competitors in town not to hire each other's employees if they were looking to move. So it's bad if the individuals band together to bargain collectively with larger entities, but it's perfectly OK for several of the larger entities to band together and bargain collectively with INDIVIDUAL employees. I couldn't convince him this was a hypocritical postition. Doh! Now I said I had a soft spot for the theoretical union, and the first ones no doubt did serve a purpose in putting a check on abusive management, but that doesn't mean that I'm sympathetic to the real flesh-and-blood ones and how they normally end up operating.
I worked for a guy with a reputation for ruthlessness in business dealings, usually with competitors. He was honest in the sense that at least theoretically, he intended to give a good product for the money, and he wanted to be a good employer to his people (although now that I think of it, the ways in which he chose to do so often felt a little paternalistic to me).
Anyhow, his business was in serious decline, with maybe 20% of the number of employees that it had at its peak, and he was moving to make everyone, from engineers to machinists, into contractors. And not just in name, paying them by the hour and issuing a 1099, he was having people bid jobs at a flat price. So he was pissed when this one machinist was producing more than he ever did when paid by the hour, even though the piece rate for the part he was making resulted in the boss getting it for less than he did while paying hourly. "Why didn't he work that hard when he was on the clock?" he asked. I found the hypocrisy beyond limits. Everything he ever did in his professional life was to make money and better his own position, but if anyone else works harder when they can make more money, it's the equivalent of stealing from him. Moron. Besides, the company was likely to fold within the next year so it was also possible that the machinist was just making hay in the sunshine by working at a rate he couldn't have sustained indefinitely, which is the mindset you have to have as an hourly employee.
Management does not always have the advantage. I own an architecture firm in Fort Worth. Over the past few years, finding good employees was very difficult because the market was so hot. We decided to give pretty hefty raises to keep the people we had since we couldn't find anyone even marginally qualified. People were moving from firm to firm all over town. Employees had the upper hand.
Now the situation is different. We, as management, have the upper hand as the market cools. It's that same old supply and demand equation.
Well, I’m glad you get a turn at the helm, RQ. The first firm I mentioned was an AE firm doing mechanical.
Very good. And Gresham's Law also applies to victims, in that bad victims drive good victims out of the market.
(I should make that my tag line.)
I think I like it better the other way. Worrying about how to get it all done is better than worry about getting something to do.
In either case, I do my best to trade value for value and not try to abuse those times where I have the advantage. I think my employees know that and they didn’t try to take advantage during the boom times. Of course, we (I have a partner) tried to stay ahead of them instead of waiting for them to make demands. In return, they busted their asses when we got to chrunch time and couldn’t find new hires.
We have not had to lay anyone off... yet. I dread that because I have a really strong group.
I've always tried to live by the axiom "give two hours of effort for every hour of pay and you will never be in need for a job"
A century ago, 10,000 employees died every year on America's railroads. The railroad companies simply wrote this off as the cost of doing business. Life had no intrinsic value.
It was the unions that forced safety on the railroads, defining safety standards that still are in effect today.
As for myself, it was precisely the facets of office life that had no bearing on the job at hand, and conceptual hypocrisy like what I've described that led me to decide the corporate world isn't for me, and I struck out on my own. Nothing but my performance (and the level of demand in the market) has any effect on my compensation. Customers relate to you in a much purer, less political fashion as a contractor. If the work you did works, you're OK, here's your check. Very clean, and based on only proper factors.
The guy at the second place always presented himself as a big free-market conservative, abhored excessive regulation, etc, etc. But he was all for government projects whose beneficiaries he liked. For example, he was a big sports fan, and he was incensed that anyone would oppose municipal funding for a new pro baseball field. My attitude was that if there were a market for a pro baseball team in town, building a field would justify itself. Why should the taxpayers subsidize businesses whose business model is inadequate to the circumstances? So I always though of him as a faux conservative, or at least a fuzzy minded one. I recently learned that he was a big Obama supporter in 2008. Finally showing his true colors I guess.
Very true, but one can certainly reach unusual heights in a burst that is known beforehand to be limited in duration.
I don't have to deal with it very often, but sometimes I am required to use HUBs (Historically Underutilized Businesses). Instead of being free to use the best qualified, I am forced to select consultants based on their skin color or what is in their pants. The HUBs know the game and take full advantage.
Oops. “many” conservatives
I don't think that life as described in the next few chapters is any more realistic than the worker's paradise view from the collectivists. I concede the need for unions when that balance of power tips too far toward management's favor. But how is management protected when the balance shifts the other way?
Off to start Saturday chores. Thanks for the exchange.
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