Out of curiosity I finally ordered it and waded through the brick-like book. I have a few comments to pass.
Firstly; style and readability. Well, not brilliant. Rand has a terrible tendency to rant/lecture in character monologues that last for pages. In one case, sixty pages. Which is more than a little tiresome. The other main defect of her writing style is that all her ‘Atlas’ heroes are the same in style and tone, there’s only one voice and one character between them. There are some parts I really enjoyed, like watching Reardon scrape off his parasite family, and the spiralling descent of Dagny’s brother. The studied cascade of failure of the social system was also worthy. However, the book should have been sent to a competent editor who could have sliced it into something more direct and less repetitive. If you’ve made a point well, which she does, you don’t need to repeat it a dozen times. I can’t see how it was made into a film, the plot is just too unwieldly.
Secondly; politics. First a little background on myself to understand how I interpret this book. I am an escapee from the gutter, coming from a welfare dependent underclass family on a very bad council housing estate in the seventies, one of the few places in the UK to have gun crime. I then lived in some of the worst areas in London ( including Dalston, the armpit of England) before escaping to middle class-ness in the suburbs under my own steam. And I have always worked, even at mind numbingly low paid menial jobs like packing fruit.
She has some excellent observations about how unearned welfare breeds parasitism in a society. I’ve seen it myself in the neighbours I used to have whilst working on a low wage. Unearned benefits breed a bizarre sense of entitlement in the receiver, and understand, a lot of welfare dependents in the UK (can’t say for anywhere else) are very undeserving. One immediate family member springs to mind. Mid thirties, he has never worked but leeched of his parents and the state his whole existence, and he even once to hit me up for money (my hard-earned and saved) to fund a vanity film project. Which is probably why I cheered when Reardon’s brother came unstuck. There are families in the UK where no-one has worked in generations. That’s right, three generations of people who haven’t worked but who have been fed, housed, educated and cossetted at the expense of my husband and myself who have worked non stop our whole lives, in good health and bad, from minimum wage to managers salary. And having come from what is probably a worse background than most of these people, I find sympathy a little hard to muster when they start whining about their lot. Rand spotted that this would be the logical outcome of hand outs, and I do agree with her sentiment of ‘why should I work for them?‘ It’s not like there isn’t work available – which is why we have to import immigrants to do the menial work (hard working people, the eastern Europeans). Our own underclass have now become so precious that they’d rather live on benefits (breeding like flies, they have more children than average) than demean themselves by cleaning a hotel room or working in a field. One thing you will observe in England, is that no one detests the perennial welfare recipients more than the working classes. They share the same housing estates, schools, and disposable income levels, but still have the morality to work. They are the people who want the cash flow to the parasites cut, not the guilt ridden middle-classes. Watch any political debate and you’ll see it’s the nice liberal middle class politicians who refuse to reform the welfare system. It’s the working class members of the audience who are screaming at them that the system has to be changed.
And this isn’t even going into the people who claim disability allowances (mainly fraudulently). The govt during an unusual attack of sanity has decided most of the long-term claimants were actually fit for work, and about two million malingerers and slightly disabled people will now be expected to find work (but still supported at our expense until they do). I’d like to add that I’d actually like to increase the benefits slightly to the seriously unwell/disabled as I don’t see why they should live in grinding poverty through no fault of their own. So I’m not a completely heartless neo-con.
I differ with Rand somewhat in recognising that a decent basic social system can work well and improve the general wealth and welfare. Europe has had a functioning welfare state for many decades, and we haven’t collapsed into communist anarchy. I’m all for a good national health care program and basic education and disability care for the genuinely needy, and so should any self-interested person. I don’t want to be robbed by a desperate starving chav or catch endemic diseases off the great unwashed or my kids be left to die because I can’t afford chemotherapy. So a basic welfare state is in everyone’s interest, and no-one really objects to paying for it at that level. At least, not the people who have experienced one.
Another aspect in the book was the ingrained hatred of capitalists in the populace, something you still see shades of in the anti capitalism riots. I completely agree with Rand on this one. The rare people who can build up the multinationals are absolutely vital to the progress and prosperity of our culture. I just do not understand why their creating work for thousands of people and useful products that I want to buy makes them the bad guy. Anti capitalists seem to think that workers collectives and smaller producers will rush in to fill the gap if these ‘hogs’ clear out, but what will happen is that the quality of product will fall, it will get more expensive, and it won’t be done as efficiently. Add to that no-one will step up to the plate to take on the new projects if there is no strong financial incentive. These few sharp, driven and insanely hardworking people create the infrastructure that we’ve built our civilisation around. They’ve got to where they are by being competent. The success of any culture depends on the number and quality of these individuals (in science and politics as well as business), it needs them to drag the inertia bound masses forward into better standards of living.
One thing Rand didn’t prophecise was the large-scale influx of immigrants from poorer countries wanting a better life. In her vision, they stayed in their own countries and begged for handouts from the more successful nations instead of individually smuggling themselves over the borders to work (or in the UK’s case, drain our welfare system and fill the jobs the underclass should be doing). But she did foretell the extraction of shale oil, and the US govt trying to force the lending of cash to the poorer masses without the necessary discrimination needed for the banks to stay afloat.
The general impression I got from Rand was that she always thought the extreme right-wing, ‘only I matter’ attitude was the right one to take. I agree with her on certain points, but I’ve got the benefit of knowing from past events that a capitalist culture can get by very well in a welfare state, and that improperly regulated banking can cause massive global economic catastrophes. We’ve all – except for a few fringe idiots- figured out that communism just doesn’t work economically. This means that as in so many things, you need to take a middle path between welfare and wealth to get the best from both. If you keep being right or left-wing all the time you’ll just end up going around in circles.