A little government is necessary to preserve liberties and mobilize efforts in common directions. But to get elected these days, candidates must promise big things, never looking at who will pay. As a consequence, the producers and innovators feel punished. Effort and success only meet with more taxation, and taxes go to pay people who would likely work if government subsidies didn’t provide a cushier standard of living.
Ayn Rand, who left Communist Russia, saw it all before. She tried to warn Americans in the mid-1900s that they were going down the same road. In her most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, she asked what would happen if those who feed the beast of big government, the producers, decided not to cooperate.
Rand was too much of a perfectionist to see her novel on the silver screen, so it wasn’t until April 15, last year, that Atlas Shrugged: Part I hit theatres, well on its way to becoming a cult film. Members of the cast participated in outlandish promotions, such as a fundraiser for “Friends of Global Awareness.” That was the organization character Philip Rearden begged his tycoon brother, Hank, to fund anonymously. He wanted the money, but he didn’t want his friends to view him as associating with capitalists.
Part II takes place during mass unemployment caused by Fair Share laws enacted to prevent successful capitalists from earning more than the less-engaged wannabes. Protesters line the streets, one carrying a sign that reads, “We are the 99.98%.” What few cars remain have cardboard signs that read, “Don’t take.” Gasoline is sold on the street for a premium in partially-filled red plastic gas cans.
When a government official visits Hank Rearden’s steel factory to demand he provide steel for the National Science Institute, which had declared his superior metal dangerous, he refuses. He invites the “looter” to bring his trucks and guns, but says he will never consent to the charade of being a willing seller. Hank also makes an illegal backroom deal to cooperate with a coal producer, so they can both stay in business; but the coal producer joins the ranks of vanishing entrepreneurs shortly thereafter.
Following a closed-door meeting with cronies and crony capitalists, Head of State Mr. Thompson declares a crisis and issues Directive 10-289 to freeze the ever-skidding economy. Its eight points include now common government tools like wage and price controls. Because innovation costs jobs, it also demands that holders of patents “voluntarily” sign them over to the government as gift certificates. And, of course, it sets up another bureaucracy, the Unification Board.
By now, a protester has a sign that reads, “Will comply with Directive 10-289 for food,” and a homeless vet carefully carves an RIP sign for his country in an old desktop. Dagny Taggart, the high-powered capitalist heroin, decides it is time to take an indefinite vacation, leaving her brother in charge of the railroad. Whereas Dagny kept her dad’s business alive with study and hard work, James takes all the credit. He embraces a business model of flying by the seat of his pants and relying on government to use its regulatory powers to keep the competition in check.
Playing the self-assured commando, James appoints a random employee to replace his sister. Most of the talent has left the company, and with production hamstrung by all the regulations, rail lines are deteriorating. Politician Kip Chalmers happens to be on a train that is constantly malfunctioning. He is the quintessential politician who only looks at the demand side. He has to be at a key whistle stop, even if the laws of nature must bend. Thanks to a general belief that everybody can continue to ride upon the coattails of the man who is no longer wearing the coat, the inevitable happens.
Upon hearing the news, the ever-responsible Dagny comes out of hiding to try to salvage the railroad. With production at a screeching halt, she repairs lines by recycling ties leading to ghost towns. Shortly thereafter, she finds out Quentin Daniels has made progress reverse-engineering a space-age motor that could revolutionize the world. Dagny and Hank found the dusty old model abandoned by its inventor in the ruins of the Twenty-First Century Motor Company. The business had been successful until its founder left it to his heirs, who decided to run it on the timeless principle of, “from each . . . to each . . . .” Inevitably, some had tremendous abilities and others had tremendous needs. There was no semblance of means testing, so the latter grew fat as the former grew weary, and strife left the factory, and the town it supported, to the dust.
Dagny flies off to catch Daniels, but she crash lands. Before the heroin has any chance to make sense of the surrealistic circumstances, the credits start rolling.