General Description (from Amazon.com)
With this acclaimed work and its immortal query, “Who is John Galt?”, Ayn Rand found the perfect artistic form to express her vision of existence. Atlas Shrugged made Rand not only one of the most popular novelists of the century, but one of its most influential thinkers.
Atlas Shrugged is the astounding story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world–and did. Tremendous in scope, breathtaking in its suspense, Atlas Shrugged stretches the boundaries further than any book you have ever read. It is a mystery, not about the murder of a man’s body, but about the murder–and rebirth–of man’s spirit.
I thought the description from Amazon.com was woefully inadequate, but then again, just about any description would be. I had quite a time trying to decide which category to place it in, and in the end decided on “freedom” since I think that is the primary theme of the book, although it could just as easily fit in the categories of economics, human nature, leadership, management, evil, business, or tyranny.
The book has to be read in its entirety to be understood on any level, although I can’t say that all those who read it will understand it, nor Ayn Rand’s philosophies.
Why the President Should Read This Book
If there is any one book I would like the President to read and understand, this is probably it, second only to Holy Scripture. Why? Because this book shows in exquisite clarity the value of man’s freedom not only to himself, but to the rest of society. Freedom is the one gift of God that can never truly be taken away, although it may be restricted, and boy oh boy, do some men try to restrict the freedom of others. God let’s us make mistakes, even if certain mistakes mean death. Some men, on the other hand, have a hard time letting the rest of us decide what to eat, what to do for work, or what we will do with the fruits of our labors.
Atlas Shrugged also provides one more invaluable service, in that it illustrates the challenge behind the economic phenomenon of collective sacrifices and selective benefits. That is, our politicians have instituted many social programs that are paid for collectively, that is, by almost everyone, whereas those benefits are enjoyed by relatively few, but whereas the sacrifice is so spread out in most cases as to not seem to be much of a sacrifice, the benefits are concentrated such that those who receive them would be quite put out if they were to lose them. Take farm subsidies, for example. How much of your paycheck goes to pay farmers to not grow crops, but to remain farmers? I don’t know, and neither do you. And perhaps it’s no more than a dollar a year. How much time would you spend beating down the door of Congress to end that program and get your dollar back? Not much, I’d wager.
However, to the farmer who received a subsidy payment of $75,000 last year, how much time do you think he would spend lobbying Washington if he thought the continued receipt of that subsidy were endangered? He might go to great lengths.
Individually, these programs that spend the money we make do not seem like much of a sacrifice. But when you add them all up, it is quite a lot. And since government is not as efficient in allocating dollars as millions of individuals are, society suffers greatly as a whole. Although again, this is another economic concept that is not often thought of.
That is, that we all suffer based on what money was not spent on. For example, the FDA has instituted such large regulatory hurdles that it costs hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars to produce a new medicine. This means that if a new medicine will only cure 50,000 people, it’s not worth consideration by a drug company. Drug companies can only afford to create “wonder” drugs that will be purchased by tens of millions of people. Who knows how many drugs could have been created, that would have saved or dramatically improved the lives of 10,000 people here, 20,000 people there, and so on? We don’t know, and we don’t feel that loss because it’s something we never had. The news media doesn’t show us nightly stories of how 50,000 people died last year because a certain drug wasn’t created to save them, because our government made it too expensive to create that drug. However, if a drug company make a drug that saves 100,000 lives each year, but kills 10, you bet we’ll get a news story about the 10 who were killed, the FDA will step in and create yet more regulation, and we all are hurt more than we are helped.
Ayn Rand does an excellent job of showing us how much society is harmed when our freedom, and individual responsibility, is taken away by those with “good intentions” who do not see the long-term consequences of their actions.