Review: Ayn Rand ‘Atlas Shrugged’

Ayn Rand is not taken very serious as a philosopher and in reading Atlas Shrugged it is very easy to see that here ontology is not very solid. However for thinkers it is not relevant how they are perceived by other thinkers. (Jesus Christ is also not judged as an excellent philosopher) but by how influential they are. And Ayn Rand must have been very influential since Alan Greenspan is one of her disciples. He was and still is one of the firm believers in laissez faire
capitalism. Since Greenspan was chairman of the Federal Reserve for almost 20 (!) years he had plenty of time to put into practice the ideas of Ayn Rand.

The novel itself is an interesting saga on how (socialistic) political forces are destroying the free capitalist world by introducing new regulations and more government influence on almost every layer of industry. Of course this leads to disaster but somewhere in the Rocky Mountains an idyllic town is built completely in accordance with the mechanisms of free capitalism. Interestingly enough the fighters for free capitalism use both terrorism (by means of piracy) and espionage to fight the outside politic society. Now the socialistic system will in the view of Rand always destabilize and hence destroy itself but this was an interesting sideline in the story.

The book contains a large number of very interesting ideas and observations on the interaction between politics and industry. In my view government should interfere as little as possible with the free market, but with the financial crisis in mind one cannot possible maintain that no regulation whatsoever is required. That is what surprised me most, before the internet bubble in the nineties I can understand that Mr. Greenspan was a firm believer in the ideas of Rand. But even then he should have seen that free markets crash. Not if everyone sticks to adding value in the production process as is the basic principle in Atlas Shrugged. But it is always easy and possible to make money without really adding value and by making believe there is value.
This happened again in the financial crisis 2008 when bankers could not even tell the value of their mortgage portfolios. This precisely why the ideas of Rand will not work, they depend on honest men in a naive and ideal world (where electrical energy is free by the way!)

A is A claims Rand based on Aristotle who is the only philosopher she acknowledges but by now we know that A is not A or to be more precise A can be (A )and (not A). A truth we learned from quantum physics. Take that as the first premise for your ontology and you end up with a solution different from free laissez faire capitalism.

Still in my conclusion this book shows how free laissez faire capitalims can work in an ideal world and also has sharp observations on the relation between government and industry. For me it gave a good insight in the way Rand (and Greenspan) look at the world and it made me understand the ideas behind the policy of the Federal Reserve between 1987 and 2006 a lot better.

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