Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, Atlantis
Posted on 06/06/2009 7:23:17 AM PDT by Publius
Dagny awakens to the face of John Galt! He is surprised that Dagny braved his cloaking device to reach the valley. It is too painful for her to walk, so John picks her up and carries her. She hears the strains of Halleys Fifth Concerto, played by the composer himself, coming from his house. She spots a three-foot statue of a dollar sign cast out of solid gold seated on a stone column Franciscos private joke, says John.
A car arrives, driven by Midas Mulligan, with Hugh Akston as his passenger. Akston is stunned by her arrival, having previously told her that she would never find the designer of the motor and now finding her in his arms. Mulligan profanely gives her a rich tongue lashing for having endangered her life by crashing into the valley rather than entering by the front door; he is flummoxed by the arrival of the first scab. John takes responsibility for Dagny and thanks her for hiring Quentin Daniels.
As they drive along, Dagny finds that Mulligan owns the valley, John works there, and Akston is one of Johns two fathers. The final penny drops. John Galt was the mysterious third student of Akston and Stadler, the second assistant bookkeeper, the designer of the motor and The Destroyer.
At his house, John admits he has been watching her for years. The famous Dr. Hendricks, who had disappeared six years before, tends to Dagnys injuries. As John cooks and serves breakfast, Dagny finds that Lawrence Hammond runs a grocery store, Dwight Sanders a pig farm, and Judge Narragansett a dairy farm. John Galt is merely the handyman. Dagny realizes that Johns motor is the power source for the valley and badly desires to see it in action. But she is astonished that Mulligan is charging John twenty-five cents to rent his car; she quickly learns that the word give is banned in the valley.
Quentin Daniels delivers the car. He apologizes to Dagny for skipping out without notice and tells her how John had come to his lab, erased his work and written down one simple equation. After that, he would have happily followed John Galt to the ends of the earth. With pride, he tells her that he is now a janitor and hopes to rise to the position of electrician!
The first stop on the grand tour is Dwight Sanders, who agrees to fix her plane for a mere $200 in gold. But she cant buy the gold, and all her cash and stock is worthless in the valley.
The second stop is Dick McNamara, the former rail contractor, who is in charge of the valleys utilities. He now has three helpers: a former professor of economics who taught that one cant produce more than one consumes, a former professor of history who taught that the poor of the slums did not build America, and a former professor of psychology who taught that men are capable of rational thought. Dagny understands that John is taking her on a tour of the men he had taken from her. The fourth stop is Ellis Wyatts oil shale facility. One of Wyatts two employees is the young brakeman caught by Dagny in the first chapter whistling the theme from Halleys Fifth Concerto; he is now Halleys best student. Wyatt is producing two hundred barrels of oil a day from shale.
Along the way she discovers that Ted Nielsen runs the lumber yard and Roger Marsh grows vegetables. The fifth stop is at Andrew Stocktons foundry; he had to ruin a competitor, who is now his employee, to run it. Stockton says he would be happy to be ruined by Hank Rearden, who would revolutionize life in the valley. Ken Danagger turns out to be his foreman.
The sixth stop is the valleys Main Street, home to Hammond Grocery, Mulligan General Store, Nielsen Lumber, and Mulligan & Akston Tobacco. Actress Kay Ludlow, who had disappeared five years earlier, now runs a cafeteria. Down the street is Mulligan Bank and Mulligan Mint, which produces coins of gold and silver like those from Americas past.
The seventh stop is the house of Francisco dAnconia. Dagny now has figured out that John was the man to whom Francisco had pledged his life twelve years ago.
The eighth stop is the powerhouse. On the building is the inscription, I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine. As John pronounces the oath, the door to the powerhouse swings open, but he closes it quickly. When Dagny is ready to say those words and accept the consequences, he will show her the motor.
At dinner at Mulligans house, Midas introduces her in the US Navy manner as Taggart Transcontinental. Dagny dines with Ellis Wyatt, Ken Danagger, Hugh Akston, Dr. Hendricks, Quentin Daniels, Richard Halley and Judge Narragansett. To Dagny it is like going to heaven, meeting again the great people of ones past. Danagger tells her what John had told him: Well done. Perhaps too well, in Dagnys case.
Halley has composed more in the past decade than in all the previous years of his life. He appreciates Dagnys recognizing his new piece from hearing just a few notes whistled by a brakeman, and he wants her to come over to his house for a private recital. Dr. Hendricks has made a breakthrough in treating strokes, the judge is writing a treatise on the philosophy of law, Mulligan is financing everything in the valley, and Akston is writing a book on moral philosophy. But no product of this work will ever be seen outside the valley; these men are on strike. John Galt launches into a speech about the mind, reason and how these men are on strike against the moral code that demands their martyrdom.
Each man at the table each went on strike for his own reason: Akston because he could no longer share his profession with those who denied the existence of the intellect; Mulligan because of the appeals court decision in the Hunsacker case, likewise Judge Narragansett; Halley because he could not forgive the publics view of his success, seeing themselves as Halleys compositional goal; Dr. Hendricks because the government took over the health care system; Wyatt because he decided not to be a meal for the cannibals; Danagger because he discovered that the men who wished to rule over him were impotent; Daniels because he did not wish to place his mind at the service of brute force; Galt because he refused to feel guilty about his abilities. After leaving Twentieth Century, John looked for any sign of talent in the world and pulled that man out of the world and into his. The men whom he recruited took an oath to deny their talents by withdrawing from the world or taking menial jobs. They would pursue their true interests in Mulligans valley Galts Gulch but share nothing with the world. Once a year they would come to the valley and meet for a month. Now things in the world are collapsing at a rate they had not foreseen. Soon they will be ready to return to rebuild the world.
At the Galt house, there is momentary pause at Johns bedroom, but the moment passes. Instead, Dagny is placed in the guest bedroom bearing the inscriptions of the men who had spent their first night at Galts Gulch there, each in his own private purgatory.
Rand and Technology
The first operational laser dates from 1960. Rands refractory ray and its magnetic effect on motors is interesting, but wide of the mark. The hologram that hides Galts Gulch is more on the order of the technology in the later Star Trek universe. For Fifties science fiction, however, its not bad.
The idea of extracting oil from shale was barely a glimmer in an oil mans eye in the Fifties; not until the Seventies did the price of oil rise to the point where recovery from oil shale might be profitable. Here Rand was far ahead of the curve.
Rand never saw the possibilities of a global positioning system and spy satellites as a means of making it truly impossible to hide a site like Galts Gulch from the all-pervading eyes of government. The surveillance states technology was not on her horizon.
Americas Mixed Relationship With Gold
After of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, tensions with Britain eased, and the country got around to governing itself under the Articles of Confederation. But the war debt caused major problems, not the least of which was a deflationary depression. A few states took their debts seriously, but others engaged in partial or total repudiation. At the same time, the Continental Dollar, supposedly backed by one Spanish Milled Dollar each, was collapsing in value because there was no real backing except for a nebulous promise to pay. Enlisted men in the Continental Army had been paid in paper dollars, and they expected those dollars to be honored at full value.
There were only three banks in the entire country; these banks didnt care about the farmer, the shopkeeper, or the wage slave, but only the owner of the textile mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the import-export business in Manhattan, or the iron foundry in Batsto, New Jersey. Ordinary Americans held their wealth in their mattresses and under their floorboards. Without a genuine coin of the realm, people relied on coins of gold and silver minted in Spain, England and France, along with base metal coins minted by the states. Coins of precious metal were often clipped, so merchants weighed them to see just how much gold and silver were really present.
While farmers and shopkeepers could survive without a coin of the realm, the owners of the banks and large businesses could not. How could a capitalist perform the Italian art of accounting if there is no coin of the realm? How can he construct a balance sheet or income and expense statement if there is no standard by which to measure value?
The states that wanted to treat their war debts honorably had a problem. The basic unit of governance in America was the county. The county collected the property tax, and a voter had to show his tax receipt at election time to the county clerk in order to vote. The county built the roads and maintained the poorhouse for indigents. States collected taxes for their own purposes, but repaying war debts would require a major hike in taxes, and a war had just been fought over that.
There is an old saying in the word of taxation: Dont tax him, dont tax me, tax the guy behind the tree. The states that wanted to retire their war debts found a way of taxing the guy behind the tree they taxed the residents of other states. After all, residents of other states could not vote in state elections, so the states charged tariffs on goods crossing state lines. The Connecticut farmer who loaded his wagon and took his produce to New York to sell now found himself confronted at the state line by a New York customs agent who slapped taxes on his produce. Quickly other states took up the idea, and a full scale trade war erupted.
Then the issue of the legality of the Continental Dollar came to a head when Massachusetts refused to accept it in payment of taxes in spite of the words legal tender. And that led to Shays Rebellion, which led to the Constitutional Convention.
In 1790, Alexander Hamilton, now Secretary of the Treasury under Washington, pushed for assumption, the act of taking the debts of the states and nationalizing them. What Hamilton wanted was financial ballast. A ship without ballast is gyroscopically unstable and tosses and turns on the sea. Hamilton believed that a properly managed national debt would act as ballast and be a blessing. Hamilton didnt figure this out on his own but copied Sir Robert Walpole who established the Bank of England in 1694. The key was properly managed. Hamilton saw a national debt as a way of encouraging a basic conservatism in American finance. By rolling the state debts into a national debt, Hamilton effectively monetized all those Continental Dollars whose value had dropped almost to zero. On a weekly basis, Hamiltons clerk at Treasury went down to the New York Stock Exchange and either bought or sold Treasury bills, thus managing the money supply; this is similar to what the Federal Reserve does today. Was each new American dollar backed by the proper amount of gold or silver as mandated by the Constitution? No. And that is one of our lesser known financial secrets: the US Dollar started out as a fiat currency in violation of the Constitutions Gold and Silver Clause.
It should be noted that the Gold and Silver Clause has been honored more in the breach than in the observance.
Hamilton intended the US Mint in Philadelphia to fix the gold and silver problem. Congress established gold and silver coins of different denominations, and people who owned foreign coins or bars of gold and silver could take them to the Mint, which would smelt them to the correct purity and mint coins of the realm, which would in turn be handed back to the owner to be placed in circulation.
Hamiltons consolidated war debt was paid off by James Monroes first term, and the new debt accrued during the War of 1812 came close to being paid off by the end of Andrew Jacksons first term. That led to a problem. Under Nicholas Biddle, the Bank of the United States had put aside its function of neutral arbiter of capital allocation and had played favorites. Biddle saw this as a prudent form of industrial planning, making him the father of Japans MITI, Max Palevsky, Felix Rohatyn and Jimmy Carter.
When Jackson ran for reelection in 1832, his campaign slogan was Jackson and No Bank. Jackson referred to the Bank as The Monster and made its abolition the cornerstone of his second term. Biddle inadvertently helped Jackson when he fought the president in Congress by allocating capital to congressmen who were the Banks friends and punishing its enemies via foreclosure. It was a fatal mistake. With the end of the Bank, the national debt was gone and so was the financial ballast. And the sharp practitioners of Wall Street were ready for a world under a gold exchange standard.
In the world of finance, there is Smart Money, Stupid Money, and Widows and Orphans Money.
With the end of good, safe government bonds, an asset bubble began to form on Wall Street in stocks. The Smart Money had already staked a claim, and the Stupid Money followed; next came the Widows and Orphans. It should be noted that the primary business of Wall Street is to fleece investors by inflating and bursting bubbles, known as pump and dump in the trade.
The bubble in stocks created the illusion of prosperity, and Jackson never understood what he had wrought. With the luck of the Scots-Irish, Jackson left the presidency to Martin van Buren before the Panic of 1837 erupted. People lost their savings, their homes, their farms, and froze to death in the cities. The road back was slow, arduous, and interrupted by other financial calamities, such as the Panic of 1857, when a ship full of gold coins minted in San Francisco was lost at sea in a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina. That hole in the money supply launched a panic from which the Cotton South recovered more rapidly than the industrialized North. In 1860, that led to a fatal miscalculation by the southern states.
To avoid usurious interest rates from the House of Morgan, Abraham Lincoln issued a paper fiat currency known as the greenback, which was to finance the War Between the States and then get mopped up via federal tax collections afterward. Upon being withdrawn from circulation, the disappearing fiat money triggered deflation and the Panic of 1873, which set off a depression.
In 1913, America established the Federal Reserve, which was not exactly a national bank because it was owned by a cartel of private banks. But the country was still on the gold standard. The calamity of October 1929 and the events that followed inadvertently made the dollar stronger with respect to European currencies. To permit expansion of the money supply via inflation, Franklin Roosevelt closed the gold window for domestic payments and made the possession of gold by Americans illegal. This permitted America to fight a deflationary depression and a world war by printing massive amounts of money.
The Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944 made the US Dollar the worlds reserve currency linked to gold at the 1934 price. This functioned well until Lyndon Johnsons disastrous guns and butter decision of 1965, which led to the London Gold Pool as an attempt to support the dollar by suppressing the gold price. Charles de Gaulle put an end to that by demanding payment in gold for France, which prompted Richard Nixon to close the gold window to foreign payments, which in turn set off the double-digit inflation of the Seventies. In 1975 Americans again were permitted to possess gold as a result. Fed Chairman Paul Volcker pushed interest rates above 20%, thus ending the inflation of consumer prices, but the liquidity spigot was never turned off, which led to the inflation of asset prices in the 1982-2007 bull market in stocks and real estate.
Fiat currencies can be very messy and full of unintended consequences. But so can gold.
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
Part II, Chapter X: The Sign of the Dollar
A note to our members. Billthedrill and I are in the process of marrying up our separate contributions, which we intend to publish. We have an agent, and he is shopping our work around to some publishers. We are grateful to our fellow FReepers for taking on the peer review function and keeping us on our toes. FReepers rock!
Thanks for this ongoing thread, I have tried to read Atlas at least 3 times and could not get thru it. This thread helps.
That’s awesome news! Best of luck to you both! :D
I believe Ayn had no problem with charity. What she did have a problem with, though, were those who expected charity, without “even the coin of thanks.”
In Ayn’s view, charity is fine, as long as it is done willingly. Rand did not believe government should be in the business of collecting money for charity..that it was not the proper purview of government.
Thank you for the lucid, succinct explanation of the true function of Wall Street.
Congrats, guys! You both deserve it. You guys can write five coherent pages while I’m still standing around going “Well I, um, uh...”
This is going to pop up again in 3 weeks when we examine the very first event in that chapter. I expect you to be the first to address a discussion topic aimed at dissecting that event.
Ah, drat, I got ahead of myself and am now thrust into the topic breach...
Anyway, I’ll do my best. ;)
Hmm, you two are going to do a “Cliff Notes meets study guide” of Atlas Shrugged are you?
Should be a great project and good luck to both of you.
“Weve seen Rands ideal Objectivist society operating in Galts Gulch. How well would it work in the real world?”
The problem with Objectivitism in regards to humanity is human emotion and frailty. Leaving aside the atheism of Ms. Rand, Objectivism cannot work in the real world.
Rand appears to assume that people can be raised to be objective in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
Humans are fallible and venal along with some being outright evil.
No matter how objective one would like to be, emotion gets in the way.
In Atlas Shrugged, Rand does an excellent job of portraying just how much government can screw up business and screw up a country.
Unfortunately, she also shows her limitations when it comes to people and emotion.
I expect this chapters thread may be longer than most others because there is so many details to discuss!
I'll comment on your paragraph heading "Rand and Technology" with this post.
I have had discussions with others about 'Galts Gulch' and what it really symbolized and the one thing that I feel needs to be clarified is that the Gulch is not a 60's or 70's era 'back to the land' movement. I don't know that Rand was ever given the opportunity to explain this detail, the movement starting after the publication of Atlas Shrugged. I remember the era and the general feeling that technology was creating more problems than it was solving and that if somehow people could be convinced to shun technological advances, 'things' would get better. The more vague the description of the problem, the more convincing the argument to shun technology.
The looters are doing the same with Directive 10-289, hoping to stop any changes created by new inventions, hoping to secure their positions of power.
It's interesting to read about the Luddite movement and the consequences. A Luddite couldn't exist in Galts world ( and certainly not the Gulch! ) other than perhaps as a subsistence farmer. At this point we can ask ourselves who are most like the Luddites? The moochers are stopping the the motor of the world with their directive (tossing their shoe into the machine). They have no choice because they cannot produce, they have painted themselves into a corner. The Gulchers are embracing technology and making it work for them. They are only limiting their efforts to prevent their product from being taken and used against them.
Rands take on technology was that it should be used when appropriate for the benefit of the individual. When used collectively ( as in the camouflage of the valley ) the use of the technology is appropriate and I believe the expense and rewards would have been borne the same as our founding Fathers had intended for our national defense.
“But she is astonished that Mulligan is charging John twenty-five cents to rent his car; she quickly learns that the word give is banned in the valley.’
That’s why I can’t stand this philosophy/book. The atheism! You’re politically incorrect if you “give” someone a ride.
In the science fiction of Robert Heinlein, people actually pay others to use their air once an emergency situation is stabilized. That hardly qualifies as atheism.
I think this is exactly the problem today. Philanthropic societies were created by those "with' to help those without. It was understood that there was a benefactor-beneficiary relationship. If you found yourself without - in deep need - you went with your hat in your hand - a humbling event - and requested aid.
I think this attitude was best portrayed in the movie "Cinderella Man" where the lead - with nowhere else to turn - finally went to get "relief". Now granted it was govt. relief, but his attitude was one of humility - not expectation.
Today the attitude is exactly reversed. There seems to be a righteous expectation of the handout. Instead of humbly going down for relief, we now hear only complaints when "my check" is late.
I think a return to more localized charity is the only solution to our broken system. The abolition of income tax and the welfare state would create a booming business environment. The resulting wealth would then be available to help those truly in need - at the local level. With the end of the welfare state, local charity would then manage/evaluate true need - on an individual basis - for those who humbly submit to the scrutiny of the benefactor.
Amity Shales had a column out last week that if I recall what she wrote correctly she she said the Atlas Shrugged sold 200,000 copies in 2008. I geuss this book might serve as the anti-Obama of literature.
It’s one thing to help those who cannot help themselves; it’s another to help those who will not help themselves. I have a big problem with the latter, and suspect Rand did as well.
I also agree that charity should not be compulsory.
“That hardly qualifies as atheism. “
I think hard nosed unwillingness to give a person some air is a fruit of atheism. It’s like a symptom.
I made some extra banana bread today. I had a lot of bad bananas. I’m giving it away. I’m not charging anybody.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.