Now, in fairness, I did read and enjoy The Fountainhead. Sure, I thought the prose was at times pedantic and the characters a bit absurd, but it definitely reaffirmed to me that I was right to have hated my job at the time I read it. And besides, Rand kept The Fountainhead pretty light on the public policy front. Rather, it seemed to be much more a statement about art and culture than political systems. All that said, I tried to read Atlas Shrugged and gave up after reading a few hundred pages. I know it’s a cliche, but reading Atlas Shrugged was remarkably like watching paint dry in the sense that it’s a long, boring process, and an inability to accurately prognosticate the outcome would be a good indicator of severe brain damage. However, the two are not without differences. Namely, paint does not require maddening stupidity on the part of its laughably unrealistic antagonists to dry. Anyway, this is just a roundabout way of introducing this Matt Yglesias takedown of one of the more fatuous Atlas Shrugged comparisons ever made. Here’s the quote he attacks.
The government needs Liddy and Citigroup’s Vikram Pandit and Bank of America’s Ken Lewis to continue working to restore their firms to prosperity in the same way the looters in Rand’s novel need Hank Reardon and Francisco d’Anconia and Dagny Taggart, respectively, to run their steel mills, copper mines and railroad.
And here’s the quick dispatch.
Atlas Shrugged is a stupid book, Ayn Rand is a stupid woman, and John Galt’s ideas are stupid. That said, none of them are nearly this stupid. Rand’s novel isn’t about a world in which executives who build companies based on a lot of incorrect decisions, then pay themselves millions of dollars while bankrupting their firms, then come to the government hat-in-hand asking for bailouts, then find that the bailers-out want to attach some strings to their hundreds of billions of dollars in public funds and then go to hide out in Galt’s Gulch. That doesn’t make any sense at all.
If the folks running Citigroup and Bank of America and AIG were good at their jobs, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. That’s the point. But they weren’t good. They lost staggering sums of money. Their companies went broke. They had to beg for taxpayer dollars. You don’t get to do that and then turn around and “go Galt.”