Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, Ten Years After
Posted on 08/27/2009 9:05:35 AM PDT by Publius
Well, Publius asked, and sig226 asked again, and so here we are. As we stated previously, at the end of Atlas Shrugged, the titular character has only just done so, and the world is hurtling out of control toward the hard, hard ground. We are spared the horrible clamor of impact and we miss it.
What does happen after Atlas shrugs? Ayn Rand preferred not to advance the story much beyond Galts ceremonial drawing of the Sign of the Dollar, probably wisely, inasmuch as post-apocalyptic fiction was as yet a sparsely populated field. Narrative in Atlas Shrugged was only a secondary object anyway.
We can speculate, but exact models turn out to be surprisingly few. The collapse of central government in post-Shrug America suggests the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and Rand herself alluded to the Dark Ages during Galts speech, although hers was a screenwriters understanding of history, and his an engineers, and their apparent conception of the Dark Ages bore very little resemblance to the real thing.
There are significant differences, however, between the two scenarios. For one thing, technology is more pervasive and persistent than we are given to believe in the novel; and for another, the Roman Empire exhibited nothing like the capitalist infrastructure of pre-Shrug America. Banking, credit, deficit spending and widespread economic depression had to wait until the Renaissance to take a form that would be recognizable to a banker such as Midas Mulligan. That infrastructure will be far easier to rebuild than it was to invent in the first place. Pieces of it local banks, for example might not disappear at all.
More contemporary models of collapse are not without their own difficulties. That of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, for example, offers insights into survival among the ruins of a people dependent on a past surplus no longer being generated in the present. It is a useful enough model but for the fact that its continuation is now entirely dependent on outside sources that serve to prevent, or cushion, complete economic collapse. No such outside agency will be available to a post-Shrug America; about that Rand is quite specific. Short of an invasion by wealthy and benevolent Martians, wed be on our own.
The Day After
Let us start, then, by listing the things we have been told in the novel and extrapolating from there. The security doors on Galts Gulch have clanged shut, and we may assume that there is very little in the way of ingress and egress. New York fell quickly. The rest of the country has been pretty much picked clean of potential Gulchers. For a time, the Gulch lies inert, developing inwardly like a chick in an egg, presenting an eggs blank face to the outside world.
Central government collapsed within the novel. Government, the economy, the raising of food -- and children, a topic Rand avoids with the assiduity of a vampire to garlic -- transportation and education all these things localize in the sense that electricity did in one of the last chapters lovelier metaphors. Rand likened it to a stream stopped and turned stagnant, evaporating and leaving little puddles here and there. She actually can write like that when she cares to make the effort.
So what we have is a constellation of little communities more or less self-sufficient, stuck in a pre-industrial state of technology and relating to their neighbors very little. We saw this in Starnesville, Wisconsin. As far as they are able, they will subsist on the surplus created by their industrial antecedents; we are reminded, comically, of the Mayor of Romes possession of a particularly luxurious shower stall culled from the ruins of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. They will not use electricity unless situated at some sort of natural source: a waterfall, perhaps, or a coal mine, and there only until the generators fail. Replacement parts are no longer being produced.
They will not use cash. Rand described the likely devolution of exchange toward a barter economy in Starnesville. It is not fantasy. Paper money is, after all, no better than a promise. Even when it is backed by gold, it is only good insofar as the guarantors promise of exchange for precious metal is to be trusted. Backed by nothing at all, it is quickly meaningless, printed in whatever amount the printer thinks can be a temporarily convincing illusion of value. In Zimbabwe we have seen this classic progression from trusted currency to toilet paper, a slide based on the slow realization that no central bank would exchange it for anything of value but would happily continue generating the joke. It wasnt even very good toilet paper.
It is the fact of backing, and not sentiment toward the backers, that is critical. Certainly the bulk of communities would retain a commitment to the dollar not only out of nostalgia but out of sheer necessity for some medium of exchange. Sentiment and custom are, however, insufficient to run an economy in the long run, as holders of Confederate dollars finally came to concede.
However, the necessity for a medium of exchange would not simply evaporate. Local currencies would arise, just as they did during the early days of America, each backed by the issuers physical possession of gold. The micro-economy of Galts Gulch works on this literal physical presence, although the notion of making a financial transaction of the magnitude its denizens are accustomed to by hauling sacks of the stuff around is as impractical in fiction as it proved in fact. There is, by all reports, a small forklift moving weighty piles of gold from one alcove to another within the bowels of the New York Fed to reflect financial transactions between countries. That has an atavistic charm to it, but one can quickly discern that it probably would be outside the capabilities of the common investor.
And thus there is no central government and no central currency. That would be high on the to-do list of the nascent federal government on that debatably happy day when it once again coalesces around the political ambitions of its sovereign states. In the new federal government presumptive, the currency would most certainly be backed by gold if Rands entire thesis is to be followed. The opportunities for thievery inherent will not be new, but they will at least be different.
But for now we have the Dark Ages, the real ones, not the Randian caricature. Civilization will contract to the limits of lamplight and torch, of horse and oxcart. And incidentally, we have seen covered wagons emptying towns at the close of Atlas Shrugged, but where, one wonders, did the drovers and the teamsters find the necessary livestock? One does not simply harness a riding animal and expect magic to happen. If the farming economy is bereft of the internal combustion engine, who or what will pull the plows? This has starvation written all over it, and is one additional reason why the farming areas will produce only that which is sufficient to their own needs. They wont have a choice until Wyatts wells start producing again and Hammonds engines roar to life once more.
Thus the state of the country after Atlas shrugs. It isnt, nor does Rand intend it to be, markedly different from that of the United States of 1840 or so. It is to be remembered that the real-life Taggart bridge, the Rock Island Mississippi River bridge, was not constructed until 1856. Up to that point even the railroads were necessarily regional. And regional political and economic structures are the most likely pattern one might expect from a post-Shrug America.
Would these independent communities retain a loyalty to the government of Mr. Thompson and Cuffy Meigs? Hardly. Would they retain a loyalty toward that social contract that is the Constitution, buttressed by the memory of the past prosperity it accorded? That is very likely. But that is, after all, a blueprint for federal, and not local, government. Would the people surge forward united, based on a universal acceptance of that garbled, borderline incoherent statement of principle that was Galts radio broadcast? It seems, to be charitable, unlikely. They would, as people do in that situation, abide.
One might construct an entire body of fiction around this alternate world. It is a pity that Rand declined to do so.
Where from Here?
We must assume that the inhabitants of Galts Gulch have been assured by some sort of benchmark or omen that their return is likely to succeed. It seems rather implausible that it could have been in the spring following the collapse that is detailed in Rands final chapter. How long before the warehouses run out? How long before the population gives up its sentimental attachment to Central Park and begins to migrate to where the food is? How long before the last gasoline pump runs dry and the last automobiles riders take to horseback? Our society is, at the test, quite a bit more resilient than one might think, a bounty offered a thankless people by the capitalists it affects to disdain. Let us say ten years.
Even this may be a bit abrupt. One annoying thing about Rands social model is that it posits helplessness on the part of the ordinary citizen in the absence of guidance from the super-producers, something that is not borne out empirically. When that last gas pump runs dry, are we really to believe that no one in this country is capable of figuring out how to make a refinery work? Given that the technical manuals are still there and a hundred-year-old process is not in fact lost, is it not perfectly accessible to anyone who wishes to try?
The single suspension of disbelief necessary to make Atlas Shrugged work as a novel is that the genuine producers are so tiny in number that a single individual and a handful of friends may convince the lot of them to strike; that there even exists a super-elite whose absence is sufficient to make the entire system come crashing down. It may be a contrivance necessary for fiction, or it may be that Rand believed this with all her heart. I do not.
But let us remain within the boundaries of fiction. A decade later, let us imagine Galts people finally ready to emerge from their bastion. They have wealth, they have expertise, and they have a moral code that enables the trust necessary for large-scale economic transactions. What they dont have is a foothold, a necessary consequence of sequestration. Where do they start?
Colorado, of course.
Consider its advantages. First, there is physical proximity to Galts Gulch in a time when travel has become highly unreliable. Second, there reside the remnants of the last and presumably the most modern of Americas industrial development. Wyatts wells are still there, and so are the numerous concerns whose needs were to have been met by the John Galt Line. The latter is, of course, torn up for its rail, but the most important part is that the roadbed still exists, the routes cleared, the rights-of-way established. Given resources, Dagny will have it operating again in weeks, not years.
Third, its close to where the food is grown. The existence of railroads was originally to move resources to consumers, wheat to the granaries and timber to the mills. Kansas and Nebraska arent starving, but they are only producing that which is sufficient to their local needs. The cities are at the end of this logistics chain, not at its beginning. That chain will be re-forged, extended once again to the hollow and empty concrete canyons of New York. But it starts in Colorado.
It will start with the re-occupation of the Wyatt fields, the re-population of the factories that produce necessities first, and luxuries only later when the economic surplus necessary to afford them is once again in place. There will be tractors before there will be limousines, all paid for in product, financed in gold by the Mulligan Bank.
Towns and villages that have earned a hardscrabble existence from the land itself will find that they too have product to trade, wealth to earn, but only if they agree to trade with Colorado on Galtian terms. Some with brute strength may be tempted to try to acquire that wealth by force, not trade. The Coloradans will have to devise a means of collective security: force, as Rand proposed, guided by intelligence. The ability to produce will not confer a magical safety; the Gulchers will find they have to fight for their freedom. These things are not a function of talent or economics, they are inherent in the human condition.
They will likely prevail, not just because force guided by intelligence really does beat brute strength, but also because freedom is impossibly seductive, and that too is inherent in the human condition. Even a brute knows it, envies it and will, given the chance, embrace it rather than destroy it. Freedom is an intoxicant, an elixir, a permanent addiction. A half-century of relentless propaganda could not stamp out its attraction even in the New Soviet Man. Galt flashes gold, he propounds morality, but what he actually offers is freedom. Prosperity is only a necessary consequence.
What a story it might be! Towns in Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, re-establishing industry, technology, education, lit by the electricity that is a product of their own labor, the light beating back the darkness without. It will be a clarion call for the honest and a siren song for the looters who will still be practicing their bullying, lies and theft, and who will see in the new towns a new host for their parasitism. Danneskjøld has stated that he has committed his last act of violence. Poor fellow, he is impossibly naïve. Reason will prevail, yes, but reason alone and unarmed will not.
And at last it will be worth someones while to rebuild the Taggart bridge. It may be Dagny or her granddaughter, if Rand will allow her the blessing of offspring. And so to a new utopia? Probably not. For however excellent it is in the beginning, the rot will take hold from within once again if all of human history is any guide. Galt will be acclaimed a moral genius for a generation, two, perhaps ten, but that part of the human condition that is not the best that is within us will find its voice once more, and the conflict between producer, moocher and looter will once again rage. We are not, nor despite Rands fondest fantasy, will we ever become, super-beings. Neither are we animals, but we are men and women. We learn, we enjoy, we grow complacent, we forget, and we pay for the lesson once again in blood. It isnt fiction, its history.
The New Characters of the Post-Shrug World
Who will accomplish this act of economic and cultural sporulation? Unfortunately Rand does not give us a great number of clues in that direction. One of her major weaknesses as a novelist is a distressing tendency toward static main characters; very few of them are a whit different at the novels end than they were at the beginning. Franciscos character is revealed slowly but does not evolve. Galts is a very rock of permanence. Dagnys only real change is in the identity of her lover of the moment, and Rearden at the end is the same as Rearden at the beginning, only happier because his external circumstances have changed. It is if Rand is presenting a Galtian philosophical epiphany as an end state, an attainment of perfection.
Worse, those characters that do develop in the novel Cherryl Taggart, Eddie Willers, Tony the Wet Nurse, even Jim Taggart after a fashion all come to a rather unhappy end as a consequence. And so beyond the certainty that Francisco will mine in the diaspora to come, Wyatt drill, Galt engineer, and Dagny build railroads, we are left with very little to populate a cast of characters that must fill the roles that an expanding civilization will inevitably find wanting.
And so well have to find new characters or develop old ones into new roles. Perhaps Quentin Daniels will finish his tutelage under Galts hand and find a talent for building radio sets and firearms. Perhaps Owen Kellogg will find a direction in life hes a natural leader -- and so perhaps one of those newly-born towns will have him as its mayor, or its defender. Perhaps another will be led by a mysterious character named Floyd Kennedy, who is Fred Kinnan under a new identity. Perhaps Jeff Allen will make the transition from hobo to patriarch.
And maybe, just maybe, one night in Stockton, Colorado, before the gates of the town walls slam shut, a stranger with a backpack and a staff will stagger in out of the storm, and Francisco will take him into the shelter of a clapboard tavern lit by bare electric bulbs, sit him down, thrust a mug of ale into his hand, and say, Good to see you, Eddie. Welcome home.
Stranger things have happened.
The Challenge to FReepers
So now we open the topic, FRiends. Publius threw down the gauntlet. What do you think will happen after the smoke from Galts cigarette dissipates into the Colorado night?
I love this stuff. For further reading on the general topic of how civilizations stagger back out of the ruins, Id like to recommend two series of books: Asimovs brilliant Foundation Trilogy, and for those ready for the real thing, Gibbons incomparable Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
was just a warmup!
The tough would survive...2 kids of tough, the decent tough and the indecent tough. The indecent tough would form gangs of marauders ala Mad Max.
The decent tough ala the pioneers would carve out homesteads again, small communities would spring up...
Caring for the have nots has never been a problem in the US,,, caring for the will nots has been our undoing.
So at least part of it depends on how far society collapses. That, in turn, depends on just how resilient current society is, especially with respect to technologies that are only now becoming low-power, miniaturized, and capable of being sustained with less than the titanic industrial effort around which the Soviet Union became frozen. We're back to hand-cranked Victrolas for awhile, maybe, instead of all the way back to hunter-gatherers in animal skins. Or so I'd like to think.
You make a wonderful point. On retrospect I think I had underestimated the significance of Galt's static electricity motor. It is, essentially, unrestricted power for the new communities that may put Ellis Wyatt and his Colorado wells out of business. It's potentially a huge game-changer, dependent on the limitations of such a motor in terms of scale and sustainability. Lest we get too carried away with the notion of free electricity forever, we might recall that such promises were made in the early days of the nuclear industry as well, "electricity too cheap to meter" or somesuch. It turned out not to be perfect, although it's certainly better than the cramped, constipated role we've been forced to give it by people who have piled artificial limitations on it based on imperfect understanding of the technology. Let's posit Galt's motor along those lines (but unhindered by the Luddites of Greenpeace and the Clamshell Alliance).
The real problem with interjecting what is essentially magic into this equation is that one doesn't know its limitations and hence may not assess its capabilities to supplant the other industrial processes that we've assumed will continue unhindered by this formidable new competitor: Wyatt, Hammond, Dannagger, even Rearden himself, depending on the process for the production of the other magical element of Atlas Shrugged, Rearden metal. We are, in short, dealing potentially with as complete a transformation of industrial processes as from steam to electricity.
How much does this alter the dynamic of rebuilding society? Well, for one thing it places the keepers of such technology in a position of insuperable advantage when it comes to competition with any other energy source. Like it or not, the new society is as likely to be transformed as much by that as it is to be transformed by a new moral paradigm.
I'll give it some more thought.
I should probably be ashamed to admit this. I'm looking at a copy on my shelf right now and it has been there for 35 years. Never have "found" the time to read it.
I don't know. I haven't read the book (or even heard of it before now) but the premise, that advanced knowledge is forgotten by all but a self chosen few as a consequence of societal collapse, doesn't seem plausible.
But the other aspect, leading the masses out of something resembling anarchy, would still be problematic. There will more than likely be enclaves, lots of them, who would prefer their present circumstances over a return to something more like that which had nearly ruined them.
It would naturally evolve to that over time, but Galt or anyone else coming in and extolling the virtue of shipping the bounty to New York, isn't going to be universally popular in the beginning.
Wyatt wouldn’t out of business, although he wouldn’t have anything like the market his oil once commanded. Oils are still needed as lubricants, and petroleum products are the basis of many thermoplastics. Dannager would also fill an important niche. Electrical heating elements won’t produce enough heat to smelt iron or make glass, particularly given the materials available when AS was written. You need hydrocarbons to make wire, light bulbs, and frying pans.
The trouble is that you don’t need that many of them if the market is restricted to a few who have the generator to utilize the electrical devices. This is the obvious self interest of everyone in Galt’s Gulch. They would be justified in subsidizing production of generators based on Galt’s design. It gives them something to trade and pacify the rest of the population, which keeps them from being killed out of revenge. It also creates a demand for other products they can produce. Think of printers and printer cartridges.
The next consideration is one that Rand probably didn’t consider. Even if you know how to build a factory that makes 10,000 light bulbs in an hour, it serves no purpose in this world. There’s no demand for that many light bulbs. The mass production facility would never return the investment. By the time there is a demand for it to supply, someone will have a new process that is more efficient, built on the design of the first factory.
So it makes sense to operate small manufacturing systems, similar to guilds. Hank Rearden’s light bulb factory might employ a couple of glass blowers and a couple of furnace operators, who prepare the materials and pack the finished products when they’re not making the bulbs. As such, it’s not a huge investment to compete with him. If you can find a better way, or outlast him in a price war, you win.
Here is one place where Judge Narragansett’s rule to prevent government interference in business truly fails: patent protection. If Hank Rearden could make Rearden Metal, someone else could get a sample of it, determine the alloys, and make the metal. What’s the point of inventing the metal if anyone can use his work without compensating him? In fact, it’s counterproductive to invest in new technology because once it’s there, someone else can make it and not have to recoup the investment on research and development. To develop a new product or process is to cut your own throat.
Such a world would see industrial espionage as an equal to invention. Wages are commensurate with ability and knowledge. If I know your process and I can sell it for a large, one time price, what’s to stop me? If you pay me a salary that makes removes that incentive, you’ve got to pay that salary to everyone else who understands the process. You can’t produce cheap goods.
. . .
A large part of society is built around the need for utlities. The need for water and waste disposal won’t go away, but the need for power would disappear if a generator built on Galt’s motor was available. But they still need water. A city can’t keep drilling wells to meet its needs. It will eventually take the water out of the aquifer. It requires a system of water collection and storage.
Given free electricity, it’s possible for small groups to make their own water. This can be done by purifying waste water and making whatever amount is needed. Ellis Wyatt’s oil fields again come into play. Water is oxygen and hydrogen. Oxygen is readily available, but not hydrogen. Oil is a hydrocarbon, therefore a source of hydrogen that is safe to transport and store. One could make a comfortable place for one’s self far outside the mainstream given such technology.
But that denies human behavior. People are social. We like the company of others, Community also provides distinct advantages over isolation. Medicine and regular food supplies are products of communities. Sharing specialized knowledge is fundamental. We don’t have to know how to wire a house. We hire people to do that, with the added advantage that their experience ensures that the wiring won’t set the house on fire.
Besides that, we are often lazy, and laziness has contributed more to technological progress than most people imagine. Just look at all those damn freepers who would rather sit around reading copies of The Annotated Guide To Atlas Shrugged by Publius and Billthedrill. They could be spinning yarn and knitting sweaters all night, but no . . .
People also want stuff. If they have a surplus to trade, they want comfortable clothing and furniture, made by others whose knowledge produces superior products. In order to have stuff, you need factories. Factories need employees, and that forces them to be close to population centers. The cities necessarily come back.
When the cities come back, so do the Karl Marxes. Marx was a lazy bum who found an audience for his ideas among envious members of the lower classes. They had a point - they were getting a raw deal from employers who knew they could be replaced due to mass production methods. But it was also before labor unions really took hold, and factories tended to be in large cities. When taxes and other costs made leaving the cities worthwhile, the value of labor increased. In order to survive in the higher cost area, you needed good workers to ensure efficiency. A bunch of schlubs might be cheap payroll, but they can’t compete with people who care about what they do.
When a company moves into a smaller labor pool, it has to increase wages to attract the best talent. This is a major problem with some of Rand’s industries in AS. Why is the greatest motor company in the world sitting in the middle of nowhere? It increases costs for materials received and costs of shipping finished products. It increases lead time and reduces the pool of available workers. From a economic perspective, it is a stupid place to put a large factory.
So the cities return, and with them the goods and services that make modern life. With them also returns the natural propensity of people to be jealous and to want things they didn’t earn. The question is, how do they keep the Marx brothers out of play?
Bump for the weekend crowd.
Exactly, free power, whether mechanical or electrical, is the uber-transformational technology, and that alone should have more impact than all the skills and experience possessed by all the other gulchers put together. Except it's imaginary.
Lest we get too carried away with the notion of free electricity forever, we might recall that such promises were made in the early days of the nuclear industry as well, "electricity too cheap to meter" or somesuch.
Well, the motor is different in that it looks like the technology could be applied on a small scale. Anyone who could buy one could have one in their garage, so after the initial cost they run their house on free power forever. This is a fundamentally different dynamic than massive centralized nukes owned by the government or utility, even if the nuke power were almost free. BTW did you know someone was playing around with the idea of house sized nukes? That's the closest thing I can see in real life to the effect Galt's Magic Motor (tm) would have on society. Probably would get turned into some kind of super meth lab in the first week.
Not sure I buy that one, at least totally. There's a lot of factories in the rural South and in the rural parts of the Great Lakes and Mid Atlantic states, so there is at least some level of manufacturing that you achieve in the absence of large cities. Perhaps it would be even more in the post-AS world with Galt's motor, as factories are sometimes located to be near very large electrical power sources, which might lead to clustering, and thence to urbanization.
In general though, excellent and thought provoking projections on your two posts.
Ah well, I’ve been looking at a copy of “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” for 25 years, since I quit about page 250....
Nevertheless, the notion of infinite free energy forever would be transformational, to say the least. Less, I think, on the order of steam to electricity and more on the order of the discovery of fire. There Galt might be regarded as Prometheus indeed. Were we to take that seriously the shape of the new society might not be industrial laissez-faire capitalism at all, but more resembling the Morlocks and Eloi of H.G. Wells. The Eloi were, as we recall, a kept, work-free, leisure race whose chief virtue was edibility.
Let us propose, therefore, that there are reasonable limitations on Galt's motor and that rather than supplanting all other known sources of power it takes its rightful place as an honorable competitor. That seems more in keeping with Rand's sentiments in any case. It is around all of them together that a future society will be constructed.
For Rand the chief component in the new society's architecture is not technological, but moral: the morality of scrupulous free trade centered around that creative impulse that she termed "the best that is within us," through which alone there will be something to trade in the first place. Naturally theft and violence have been around quite a bit longer than that creative impulse - Rand regards them as animal activities and given that we do see them as survival strategems within the animal kingdon we are inclined to agree. Human beings are animals first, enlightened beings only later and after some effort - this continuum illuminates nearly all of theology, philosophy, and certainly the education necessary to produce an engineer or a sculptor. It is the real lesson of the Garden of Eden and of Original Sin that Rand so scornfully misunderstood. The Garden is no more on earth - the rules have changed, Man must ascend or he is not Man, and to ascend he must work. One of Publius's and my central points in the criticism of Atlas Shrugged is this parallel intellectual pathway between Rand's earnestly atheistic approach and that of the Christian Church (and temples, Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist and Zoroastrian, and the Mosque as well). These are basic issues, one cannot construct a system of morality without addressing them.
And so when one looks at this new society informed by a new moral and ethical code one does, in fact, have historical parallels. If the societies they produced show anything in common it is a tendency to soften, to temporize, to compromise on an initial strict observance of the foundational moral code. To do so too far, and to fall. And yet we also see the incapability of a foundational fundamentalism to account for change. Too much of this and we have orgies in the Vatican; too little and we have the Taliban. Both are historical facts.
If that seems a bit depressing when considering the post-Shrug society that Rand apparently hoped was an end state, it isn't really a process one hopes for so much as a process that one recognizes repeatedly in history. Rand, Plato, and Marx, like all utopians, would have us believe that it is because of moral imperfection; that the following of a new code will bring forth a New Man. And perhaps one day one of them will be correct, but in truth none of them has yet.
That is so true.
A large percentage of problems will occur due to the rapid advancement of technology.
Free power changes the dynamics in more ways than could be forseen. Heavy industry ,yes even railroads, could become obsolete overnight.
Energy industries like coal and oil extraction would be only worth their value as scrap. Energy intensive production of materials such as aluminum and magnesium would be so easy that every home hobbyist could produce their own, the manufacturing requirements of nearby energy sources are now unnecessary. Sorry, Hank!
Although this is going beyond ten years, space exploration, for one, would be advancing at an exponential rate with unlimited energy, assuming the technology isn't restricted to earth. (Consider the westward expansion in the US in the 1800's). Colonizing anything that could be colonized would be the driving force for generations until a limit to this activity was found, and who knows what that would be!?!
Defense would be a trivial matter to those who possessed unlimited power. Perhaps a human scale bug-zapper surrounding a valley or an entire city. Those who controlled the power would be intimidating indeed.
An interesting point not made so far is that producing power is less of a technical challenge as storing it. Currently (pun not intended but would have been a good one) we can only store power in chemical form as in a battery or in potential form as done by holding water behind a hydropower dam for future needs. Galts motor seems to solve both problems.
The future in our world...
Well, not quite as rosy : (
Regardless of the current problems that we have been experiencing, the 'organizer' ( term used generically ) will be the supreme power figure as it has been in the past. The soldiers, doctors, tradesmen, teachers, politicians etc. will gravitate to a leader. Those who are talented at manipulating people will, by default, become leaders. This has always been the case. The only power we have is to select a leader who will work for our interests and reject those who do not.
Assuming we make it through a revolutionary cycle, the dynamics of our modern world will be incomparable to the past although our human nature will be unchanged. Put the two together for the purpose of prediction and maybe we can speculate with slightly improved accuracy. For example... One aspect of human nature that I find troublesome is the tendency for people to desire what they are told they desire. In the past, the lack of or delay in communications had a stifling effect on the interaction between the leaders and the followers. Todays instant communications will bring profound changes to this dynamic. Couple this change with another human trait, that of 'wanting to belong' to a group or movement and you can see that a quick riot or coup can be executed so fast that there would not be time to stop it. Summed up, it is the speed of communications applied by a charismatic leader using the well understood frailties of human nature, their need to belong and desiring what has been dangled in front of them, that will be a driving force. Organize a thousand nutcases with text messaging and a central control point and nothing could be considered safe (envisioning 'school of fish' here).
The solution to this unpalatable future is to educate ourselves and work within our communities to educate others of the responsibilities that our form of government demands. Reeducate the people who feel lost and out of control, demonstrate that our system is the best that man has ever devised and speak out when you hear the parrots saying things that are simply untrue. There will be no Cavalry coming to our rescue, the longer we let things go unchallenged, the more we'll have to undo.
Those who identify themselves as an individualist will have to seemingly go against their nature and join with others of a like mind, the individual being powerless against a group. This is not a contradiction of values, rather a realization of reality. To deny the need to associate will only give an advantage to those who oppose you.
In the absence of some worldwide conflagration, the existing technology will be entrenched well enough to at least allow us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. I recall reading a TEOTWAWKI novel ( I believe it was Earth Abides ) some time ago that suggested that even though all of society had crumbled, the survivors had found a use for the lowly penny. Being in great abundance they were easily formed into arrowheads. This, I think would be at the lowest end of the possible collapse. It is my opinion though that people are able to adapt and do so readily. Without the suppressing influence of a large centralized government, people will reap the rewards of their efforts and will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Just think, no 1040's to plan around!
I thought about that as I considered the transition of my home town area in northern New Jersey from truck farms to commuters and industrial parks. The whole thing depends on roads, which are not simple stretches of asphalt. Roads have to be maintained or they become impassable. You'd be surprised if you counted the number of bridges in a small town.
The roads will fail in an anarchy. Transportation of employees and material to a rural factory will be undependable. Besides maintenance, nothing prevents people from blocking the road and imposing a tax. This might be the committee of citizens from Backwater Town, or it might be Auntie Entity and some heavily armed "cashiers." There must be fueling stations, repair facilities, and towing services. There must be truck makers and distributors of parts to the repair stations for broken down vehicles. There must be tool makers to supply tools to the repair stations so they can fix the trucks. An OTR transportation network is a profoundly complex thing. It took decades to evolve. Without all that stuff, I'm not going to load a truck full of goods to send 500 miles away because there's a good chance that it won't get there.
I found it a little humorous that Atlas Shrugged ended with Hank Rearden contemplating the high rates he will have to pay Dagny Taggart to ship his steel. Where is she going to get a railroad? They destroyed all of them.
The cities will have the most workers and the most potential buyers for whatever a company manufactures. A secondary system of middlemen will establish itself as some people realize that they can buy stuff in the city and sell it at a profit if they move it away from the manufacturer. People will eventually move away from the population centers to get cheap land and avoid congestion. They will bring the infrastructure with them. But it will take time.
Hmmm. Excellent point. Of course we're in Randworld, so Dagny can just blink and wiggle her nose (course this will cause some combination of John, Francisco and/or Hank to ravage her for at least 6 pages) and entire rail lines will leap into existence, thus solving the material and finished good transport problems. Not so good for workers commuting though, so you may have a point.
Ive been scuffling around trying to find a decent model for Galts motor and what its likely arc of development and effects might be in post-Shrug America. Ive got one to try out, at least. We have discussed the impact of unlimited free energy forever on the likely development of Rand's future world, but so far we have not addressed an equally radical turn in technology that did take place and promises to alter humanity in ways yet unimaginable. That is the advent of information technology.
Naturally we can't blame Rand for failing to anticipate little beige boxes filled with real magic. Her death in 1982 was at the very dawning of the real era of computation in the hands of the individual citizen. It was a notion that even some of the era's experts found as unlikely of success as their predecessors did the ridiculous idea of multi-ton steel vehicles hurtling toward one another at a mile a minute guided by "mere housewives" as one unfortunate pundit opined. Best not to underestimate the adaptability of the common citizen. I think Rand tended to do just that in her contemplation of the ubermenschen that she felt would result from a perfected moral code.
So who would build one of these personal computers in Galts world? That part seems fairly obvious inasmuch as we know who did in ours these were entrepreneurs operating on venture capital and in the near-total absence of governmental interference. To a great degree the Silicon Valley of the 80s was Galts Gulch taken concrete form. Some Gulcher engineer, Quentin Daniels perhaps, might cobble together his own Altair. And hed have a valley full of customers, Midas Mulligan being probably the first and then the other visionaries as they could see how their own fields would be enriched by the new device. It would be, it was, it is, a considerable edge in competition.
But there were only a very few actual manufacturers in the beginning, and far more failed than succeeded. I think that Rand would have approved of Silicon Valley in the early days.
How far can we take this model in considering what might happen with Galts motor? Well, for one thing the exclusivity of the design and manufacture of the personal computer very rapidly became subject to proliferation through reverse engineering and the advent of competitors in places that were imperfectly respectful of patent law. That certainly describes post-Shrug America no central government means no patent protection, and we are reminded that one of the last acts of the central government that did exist was to expropriate all the patents for its own use anyway. And so Galts motor will be his own for a time, but not for all time. The explosion of industrial redevelopment that he is doing his best to set off will, at last, be his own undoing. Unless, of course, he comes up with a new and improved model, which will also, in time, be copied. It isnt altogether fair but its a fact of life that such pioneers tend to end up in a protracted competition with themselves.
And so, to bound the problem, lots of cheap, not free, power pulled down from the sky, multiplying like Commodore 64s in the old days, each vying with the other for its share of the static in the clouds. There would be cheap clones that will blow up. So what? The corks popped out of the bottle and the genie has flown away laughing maniacally. Galt can insist on moral free trade all he wants to for all the good it will do him. Hell wind up competing again, just as Rearden did when the Rearden metal he produced wound up competing with the steel he produced.
It is ironic that the only protection that a patent will accord is a function of the federal government that Rand, as we, came to regard with suspicion and derision due to its indisputable abuses. It is one of the few legitimate roles she will grant government (and must somehow reconcile with the Narragansett Amendment regarding government not making laws with respect to production and trade). In the absence of government as this sort of guardian Galt had better hope his magic spell for turning the thing into dust upon unauthorized examination is a strong one. In Silicon Valley, it wasnt.
But to continue a comparison already stretched beyond credibility, Id see a pattern of development centered in Colorado and then punctuated by the popping up of similar oases across the country, and then the world. Not all of its oases would be equally committed to Galtian ethics. That system would find itself in competition with the others just as it did in Rands historical model, and as then would likely prevail until an oppressive government and a false moral code rises once more. Galt and his pioneers would be long dead at that point and their old-fashioned (by then) moral code attacked just as it was in the first page of Atlas Shrugged. We have come full circle. He holds the globe once again. Poor fellow.
I don't see the conflict, Bill. As I (inadequately) tried to expound in an earlier post, I think the Narragansett Amendment is intended to keep government from taking a proactive stance with respect to free contracting among traders. But patent law is property law, protection of the legal right to the intellectual property of the patent holder. It is not an interference with contractual agreements to use that property.
At least that's how I see it; Justice Sotomayor may have more empathy for the plaintiff.
Oh, I agree. I don’t see it as a conflict so much as a line of demarcation that needs to be codified. Rand was very clear that patent protection was a valid function of her stripped-down government. And it’s easy to see why from the Silicon Valley example. The entrepreneur’s return from his investment must be protected or there’s no incentive to invent; furthermore, he must be able to generate a surplus from it that is sufficient to fund further economic activity - that’s capitalism - or the new field of endeavor becomes the immediate property of the Orren Boyles, the most successful thieves. That’s crony capitalism, which can be successful enough but doesn’t compete very well with a truly free market because there are a lot of creative people out there who aren’t cronies.
This is the last Atlas thread. Post #2 has links to all the chapters.
An interesting essay and one that should be fun to expand and expound upon!