Atlas Shrugged--A Review

I wonder how many of us here read Atlas Shrugged?
Atlas Shrugged is an excellent novel by Ayn Rand, who is the ultimate champion of self-interest and rational thinking. To a large extent it even predicted the sub-prime mortage crisis, even though this book was published in 1957! Read the book if you want to know more about the capitalist market structure, or even the role of money. (Yea, reminiscent of Keynesian's theory of money holding, lol) You can read more about the Ayn Rand Institution here. Anyway, here's my essay on her book, for the following topic. I wrote it on reflection after I finished reading the book for fun. Hope you like it! 

Qnt: What is the meaning of money to Francisco? To James Taggart?
This essay will examine how Atlas Shrugged uses the ceteris paribus condition to illustrate how two individuals, born and raised in similarly wealthy and privileged conditions, can arrive at opposing views of money. The main differences lie in four areas - the transactionary purpose of money, the root of money, the morality of money and the liberating force of money. This essay also briefly mentions the concept of “opportunity cost”, defined as the benefit of the next best alternative forgone when a choice is made. This is to expound on the values behind choosing money and its alternative as mediums of transactions, for “when there are no alternatives, no values are possible”. (1012)

Before going into the main body of the essay, it is necessary to illustrate the differences between Francisco and James Taggart. Francisco, acting as the mouthpiece for Rand’s philosophy, categorizes people into two main groups-- the traders/producers and the looters/moochers. Francisco can be seen as the epitome of a trader, “a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved”(1022) and the “climax of the d'Anconias” (89) whereas Taggart can be seen as the key example of a looter. In essence, producers use money and “their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of a (looter's) gun” . (412) Clearly, each choice of transaction incurs an opportunity cost--when Francisco insists on money as a mode of transaction, he forgoes the benefit of using guns as a mode of transaction. Likewise, as a looter, when James Taggart chooses guns as his choice of transaction, he forgoes the benefit of using money. Since guns cause disastrous consequences and A is A, Taggart ends up faking his own reality to falsely represent guns as a necessary evil.

The Transactionary Purpose of Money
To Francisco, there are therefore two benefits to choosing money as a medium of exchange. On an individual level, money is the “material shape of the principle” of honoring the producer, since it indicates the degree of “voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return” (411). On a societal level, money reinforces “the code of the men of good will”(411), and this leads to a healthy and prosperous economy. And the belief in this transactionary purpose is why he falls in love with Dagny Taggart, another producer, because he wants to trade spiritual and sexual fulfillment with “the highest type of woman he can find”. (490) Love and sex are then regarded as voluntary transactions between two deserving equals.

James Taggart however rejects money as the mode of transaction; instead, he chose guns, money's only alternative. He can therefore not enjoy the benefits of making money and is doomed to view money and the love of it as “the root of all evil” (410). On a societal level, looters like him cause the society to crumble. (414) James Taggart is anti-life, a zero, and terribly ashamed of money. When it comes to romance, Taggart chooses to marry Cherryl Brooks, a simple-minded girl of “ugly poverty”(389), so that his peers could say that he is “generous” (388). His adultery with Lilian Readern, a fellow looter, eventually forced Cherryl Brooks into committing suicide, confirming the chaotic consequences associated with choosing “blood, whips and guns”. (415)

The Root of Money
Francisco states that “the root of money” is production, and the root of production is “man's mind” (410)--logic and reason. To Francisco, wealth, defined as accumulated money, is therefore “the product of man's capacity to think”. (411) Money can then be seen as a glorious barometer of logic and reasoning since “the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his (monetary) reward”. (411)

On the other hand, as a prime example of a looter, James Taggart is obsessed by “the wealth of accumulation” (675) and the “climbing on carcasses”. (799). If the root of money to Francisco is production and the mind, the root of money to Taggart is the false sense of entitlement. To James Taggart, money and the degree of one’s wealth is therefore a barometer of one’s greed.

The Morality of Money
To Francisco, making money is “the essence of human morality”(414), and this is why he wants to boast of his ability to “claim the highest virtue of all-- that [he] was a man who made money”. (96) And this is why despite being born into a rich family, Francisco began working at a young age while still in school, wanting to prove a point that he could carve out a successful career by his own merits by using his brain. Francisco is not ashamed of money, as he feels that it is a mark of distinction.
James Taggart misunderstands money. On the surface, he seems to be ashamed of earning money, since “any grafter can make money”. (96) Also, when James Taggart talks about Ellis Wyatt, he proclaims haughtily that “there are more important things in life than making money”(10), showing that he constantly talks of the higher social good that is more than just achieving material well being. This makes him out to be a very altruistic and very socially moral person. However, a closer look reveals that he holds this opinion because he believes money to be an entitlement. He believes that money should go naturally to those who in need, regardless of ability. Therefore, to want to accumulate money is to admit that one is weak, whereas to Francisco, to want and to be able to make money is something that should be celebrated. Over the course of the book, this fallacious thinking gets exposed, as Taggart's construction of lies to support his supposedly moral rejection of money falls apart under his financial losses. In the end, he gets exposed for who he really is, a weak person who cannot make his own money but believes himself to be entitled to it.

The Liberating Force of Money
Francisco and James Taggart hold opposing views to the liberating force of money. It is clear that Francisco has more freedom than James Taggart, because Francisco is the master of his own life, and money is the means by which he achieves self-sufficiency and the goal of being an ultimate human being or Ubermensch. On the other hand Taggart is a “world's slave”(859), and money, or the love of accumulating undeserved money, is a chain to him that drives his actions. Taggart is constantly afraid to make decisions, paralyzed by the fear of being blamed, because he has stopped thinking long ago. Therefore, despite both of them having wealth, money for Francisco “will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” (411) Francisco is a man of purpose and a genius with a “great capacity for joy” (97), and it is clear that money will take him empower him to eventually double the size of his family business, after he destroys the looters. In contrast, James Taggart ends up seeing himself near the end of the novel as “a killer whom all men should rightly loathe”, that he is spiritually dead and it was “the end of James Taggart, whether his physical body survived or not”. (1146)

This is why we find James Taggart and his fellow looter investors following the decisions of Francisco mindlessly. Despite knowing nothing about the copper industry and of making money, they blindly followed the investment decision of Francisco. Eventually, they lost “forty million belonging to Taggart Transcontinental, and thirty-five millions belonging to stockholders” (124), because Francisco is out to destroy them. We see here that Francisco, who makes money, can manipulateTaggart as he wishes, but Taggart cannot control Francisco's actions, since “money is so noble a medium that it does not compete with guns”. (413)

The Ceteris Paribus Condition
The comparison between Francisco's and James Taggart's perceptions of money reinforces the ceteris paribus condition. Rand shows that ultimately, it is the mind that matters, “no matter where they started”. (412) Both heirs to wealthy family businesses started off with the same set of opportunities. Yet, the heir without a purpose like James Taggart will ultimately lose his wealth, for “money will not serve that mind that cannot match it” (412). In contrast, the heir with a purpose like Francisco will have full control of money as a “tool” (411), to consciously destroy d'Anconia copper and then rebuild it up again to achieve his goal of becoming the richest heir of the d'Anconia family. In addition, through Francisco, Rand makes a even more powerful statement than the typical ”self-made man” (414) epitomized by Hank Readern, because Francisco has to put in effort into purposeful destruction before rebuilding his family business to reach unprecedented greatness, whereas Hank Readern is in comparison, just involved in making something out of nothing. The ceteris paribus condition in the comparison between Francisco and James Taggart therefore makes a compelling point on the power of the mind-- since it is the choice of using the mind which differentiates them, and made all the difference.

Conclusion
This essay has shown how two characters who started off in life on a relatively equal footing came to drastically different ends, because of differences in perceptions on money in four areas-- the transactionary purpose of money, the root of money, the morality of money and the liberating force of money. Through these differences, Rand strengthens the ceteris paribus condition and shows that truly, the root of money is production, and the root of production is the mind.

0 comments: