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When a novel becomes reality

Fraser Nelson over at Coffee House picks up on a point that has been obvious to yours truly for a while as well: the dystopian novel, Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, nicely charts the sort of demented statist economics that we are seeing back in fashion now. Rand’s novel is more than 50 years’ old and it focuses on the railroad industry, but its themes apply just as well to the world of modern banking or the internet.

Even if you decide to skip the enormous John Galt speech at the end of the 1950s novel, reading this book will help clarify a lot of the issues now swirling around. I can think of a few people in public life today who would qualify as the villains. Who, however, are the heroes? Where are the Dagny Taggarts, Hank Reardens or Francisco D’Anconas of today? There are mutterings about the book being made into a movie, starring the likes of Angelina Jolie (who is actually a lot smarter than some of her Hollywood peers), but I am not sure what the situation is with that. Hmm, let me speculate on the glory of an anti-statist movie winning an Oscar.

As a side observation, I cannot help but notice that ever since the UK government nationalised banks such as Royal Bank of Scotland, which owns Coutts, the private bank, there have been worries that wealthy clients of Coutts must be a bit nervous about having their finances run by folk beholden to the state. Indeed, as Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds might say. Those banks which have by luck or deliberate choice avoided state bailouts will benefit.

26 comments to When a novel becomes reality

  • John

    Even if you decide to skip the enormous John Galt speech at the end of the 1950s novel, reading this book will help clarify a lot of the issues now swirling around.

    Or you could watch a dramatisation here(Link).

  • JP,
    Do you think it’s just possible that Hollywood might produce a really twisted version of Atlas Shrugged?

    Just possible.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Nick M, I must admit that I groan at what will be done with it. The novel is also so long that I am not sure whether the book will fit the format. And the pressure to “tone down” the pro-capitalist, pro-entrepreneur, anti-state line will be enormous. Fortunately, the holders of Ayn Rand’s literary estate are unwilling to let the film fuck up the essential core of the story, but what with copyright wrangles, who knows?

    When I think of what they did to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, I shudder.

  • Sam Duncan

    Ever since I read it, I’ve thought it would work better as a TV miniseries than a movie. It would probably have more real impact, too, but that’s a side effect; both the plot and the length suit the format better.

    All this is academic of course, since it doesn’t have a cat’s chance in hell of being made while retaining the original message intact and undiluted.

  • tdh

    What copyright wrangles? Potential? How?

    You don’t spank a bank with an ax. Unless it’s Fannie/Freddie and their enablers.

  • dre

    From today’s Wall Street Journal via Glenn Beck radio:

    ‘Atlas Shrugged’: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years


  • Frederick Davies

    Those banks which have by luck or deliberate choice avoided state bailouts will benefit.

    Thinking about that… is there any website listing the banks that were nationalized, or the ones that are still private? I just want to check if I need to change my bank.

  • There are no Randian heroes. That’s the novel’s weakness. It’s not actually possible to get to the top in business without reaching some kind of compromise with statism.

  • Laird

    Frederick, by “nationalized” I presume that you are referring to US banks participating (or not) in TARP (the Treasury’s “Troubled Asset Restructuring Program”). The only website I know of which maintains such a list is a subscription-only site. Here’s a link to their list, but I doubt that you could open it. However, if you would like me to send you an Excel spreadsheet with both lists (participating and non-participating) as of 12/31/08, I would be happy to email it to you. FYI, as of that date there were a total of 285 officially particating financial instutions ($47 Billion committed) and 113 which have stated that they are not participating.

  • Laird

    Obviously, that word in the penultimate line should have been “participating”.

    New Year’s resolution: proofread better!

  • Kevin B

    Of course Hollywood will do a perfectly creditable job producing Atlas Shrugged.

    “OK, we’ve signed up Halle Berry to play Jane Galt and Morgan Freeman has agreed to play the Magical Negro…. Yes I’m sure there’s one in the book. Anyway he’s the one Jane turns to for paternal advice…. I said paternal, Amanda, not patriarchal… Well how about avuncular… Ok, brotherly. You can’t object to brotherly.

    “Anyway, Jane is running an inner city school for brilliant but ‘difficult’ minority kids when one of her students hacks into a government computer and discovers the secret plan by the executive/military/industrial complex to steal the liberties of the people and restore slavery.

    “The cabal is fronted by a dumb redneck hillbilly Texan, but secretly controlled by a neocon cabal.” (taps side of nose. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Know what I mean?)

    “Anyway, she gives this big speech at the end.
    “I gotta dream…or something like that.”

    “And there’s lots of bombs and car chases. And planes. Bombers flying in and out of skyscrapers. It’s great.”

  • Bruce Hoult

    And yet there was V for Vendetta, which I dismissed as no doubt being crap for several years, and then eventually saw on DVD and was blown away.

  • veryretired

    I often find myself thinking of the newly minted metalurgist who attaches himself to Reardon in the latter half of the novel.

    Rand describes his mind so graphically as housing an unconnected collection of assertions, half-truths, partly formed tenets, and effects without causes, all floating in a shapeless plasma of feelings, instincts, and intuitions, which, he had been solemnly assured by his teachers, were superior to outmoded rationalism.

    Rand’s books, and the “Advise and Consent” series by Drury, were some of the most prescient stories I have ever read.

  • Frederick Davies


    I was refering to the banks in the UK (I do not have US bank accounts, not living there; though I do bank with Egg, which is owned by City, I believe). The other day I was thinking about switching to Barclays, since I had read they were one of the banks who did not need rescuing because they were safely in the black; but then I read that the Government had forced them to accept their help (how?). Hence I wondered: how do you find out if the Government has a stake in your bank or not?

  • Laird

    Sorry for the misunderstanding, Frederick; I guess that was my geocentricism coming to the fore. Anyway, I can’t help you with info on UK banks.

  • Paul Marks

    Various middle east governments have a stake in B. bank anyway.

    Investment – easy.

    Invest in gold coins (they may go down in value, but they will not lose all their value) – and DO NOT TELL ANYONE YOU HAVE THEM.

    Also invest in practical skills – such as making ammunition.

    Not a wild statement – some of the people I work with (quite ordinary people) have invested in this skill.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    RE: Paul Marks 11 January 2009 1503 hrs.

    Good advice indeed. If I may add a couple of skills that might be handy. They may not be totally applicable to the Brit side of the pond, as the UK is about as buggered up as a football bat and shows no real hope of resistance; plus it does not have the room necessary for survival in extremis of any large number of people outside the almighty State.

    In addition to specie, and vital skills attendent on maintaining some form of modern weaponry, there are 4 skills that will allow you to survive as a functioning member of a society operating at a far lower technological level:

    1) the ability to distill potable alcohol.
    2) the ability to manufacture gunpowder and associated items.
    3) the ability to manufacture containers. In the absence of modern production of metals and plastics, things like pottery and baskets will be a needed item.
    4) the ability to render effective medical aid in the absence of modern pharmaceuticals. There are more primitive analogs to modern drugs. Not nearly as effective, but far better than nothing.

    Better to have the ability, and not need it, than to find out that you have no useful skills that make it worth keeping you alive.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Nuke Gray!

    Neither dystopian nor Utopian are good names for this type of book. It starts bad and ends in hope. Perhaps they should be called transtopian?

  • This book and Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom” got me on the right road in the 1960s. And I was a student at Berkeley at the time! I really got right when I earned my degree, started my career (I worked at entry-level jobs all through college) and supporting a family.

  • Laird

    Subotai, I’m not sure why distilling alcohol is on that list. If one really needs alcoholic beverages, wouldn’t simple fermentation (beer, wine, etc.) suffice?

    Still, it’s an interesting list. Perhaps this could be a new Discussion Topic: compile a list survival skills necessary in a low-tech society, or even better a list of essential books providing instruction on such skills. Any interest?

  • Subotai Bahadur


    Aside from the economic aspects [Distilled alcohol is a trade good in constant demand. Conversion of grain to alcohol is both a value added product AND makes a bulk crop transportable. Our farmers who took part in the Whiskey Rebellion early in our history did not moonshine just because they were dipsomaniacs and enablers thereof. That part of the country had very little in the way of roads, and that was the only way to get their surplus-above-subsistence grain crop to a market. It is easier to move a barrel full of liquor to market than however many bushels of grain are the equivalent, and you get a better return in trade or specie. The problem of prices falling as everyone’s harvest comes at the same time is avoided as it is storable. And depending on quality, it is possible to get a brand differentiation that enhances returns.] there are other factors.

    One assumes that whatever community you are in wants to remain above mere subsistence level and progress, albeit perhaps without drawing attention from the State. Distilled alcohol is a premier solvent used in compounding other things, both medicinal and otherwise. It is a good thing to have around. In the absence of other antiseptic materials, it will kill off microbes and viruses like nothing else available, and is relatively safe [albeit not painless] for topical administration.

    Mind you, I am not averse to the brewer’s art and the products thereof. The ability to make a good ale or mead [beekeeping is not a bad thing to be able to do either] is to be valued, but distilled alcohol is a more value-added product with more possibilities.

    There are other things that would be in demand. Perhaps that would be a topic to explore farther. One thing to note from the beginning. Population is determined in large part by the carrying capacity of the land. That in itself is influenced by the level of technology available. If things “go south” rapidly, there are going to be a lot fewer people. That is unavoidable. Further, a lot of those people left are not going to be operating on Robert’s Rules of Order or Emily Post’s texts.

    Those who survive are going to have an attitude towards the willingness to use violence, including killing, that is more akin to the American culture than the British culture. Our society accepts individuals defending themselves as necessary from human predators. Yours punishes those who defend themselves and protects the predators.

    This difference in attitude extends to animals. When things get hungry out, there will be no Tesco’s to pop down to. I have a couple of different small herds of deer who transit my yard daily. So long as they stay out of the garden, I enjoy their presence. However, if it gets hungry out, if my neighbors do not beat me to it; my family WILL be eating venison.

    The reaction of the Liberal elite to Sarah Palin’s ability to hunt and field dress game animals is indicative of the cultural difference in the Cold Civil War we are involved in. One cannot envision most urban Socialist/Collectivists soiling their own hands to survive. They would starve if the “untouchables” did not do the dirty work.

    I would suggest that those contemplating a list of survival skills perhaps ponder the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to start, applying it to small communities.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Nuke Gray!

    Rand gave us plenty of heroes. the perfect hero was John Galt, but the other giants of industry were also heroic figures. they improved by casting off the false beliefs that had imprisoned them, once God (here called Galt to avoid blasphemy) shows them the error of their conditioning.

  • Laird

    Good points, Subotai. FYI, I’m not in the UK, but rather the US (South Carolina, to be precise, and we have a pretty strong gun culture here, too).

  • Subotai Bahadur


    Sorry about the confusion. I was thinking it was a Scottish nom de blog. I note that response for the survival skills thread suggestion is lacking, indicating that perhaps I have stunned our Brit cousins into silence with my blatant paucity of political correctness.


    The specific skills to survive a cranking back of civilization a notch will, of course vary by location. Despite the popular myth of being able to run away to survive in the mountains here in Colorado, that is not a wise choice. High, cold, desert. In your neck of the woods, the “mountains” are older, eroded lower, wetter, and a lot more survival friendly. Your back woods, while not a picnic, have resources to work with. You also have the immediate pioneer folklore at hand, not being far from Appalachia.

    Noting that if you are on the coast, an additional skill set will be needed [but that survival would be easier because of location]; I would acquire a complete set of the FOXFIRE Books as a beginning. That is about the technological level that people should be aiming for, with the ability to build up if possible. Learning to do shelters with the means at hand is good, as is the ability to build a fireplace with chimney.

    Maslow’s Hierarchy is a good place to start. Shelter, warmth, water, food, etc. One thing that most people ignore is a source of potable, clean water [and how to make the water safe to drink] and safe disposal of waste. Otherwise most people will die of disease the first year after things crank down a notch.

    Another skill that should be acquired is the ability to extract salt. Assuming that one manages to accumulate a surplus of food to last the winter, it will have to be preserved. In the absence of electrically driven technology; your choices are root cellars, drying, and salting.

    Culturally, survivors will have to change how they view food; becoming far more omnivorous. One thing that came out of studies of POW’s in Asia. Asians tend to equate rice with food. They eat it as the staple with very little else along with it. Westerners don’t. One of the predictors for survival was whether the POW would eat all of the rice and accept it as being real nourishment. If things get hungry out, people who survive, especially at first, will have to get more of a hunter-gatherer mind set, and recognize things as food that most moderns don’t.

    Survival is easier in a group, a community that can pool skills and labor and help each other through the rough spots. If you are a group that is surviving passably, you are going to be considered prey to those who are not. Think Eloi -v- Morlocks. It does not matter if the Morlocks are bands of human predators that currently wander our cities, or if they are whatever passes for the parasite successor to the modern state which will want to ‘tax’ away your survival. Further, the divisions that are part of our society today, will still exist. Race, class, religion, political creed. There will not be a sudden agrarian utopia. Each division will mutate and seek superiority, and it actually probably will be more violent in Europe than here because the divisions are sharper and more numerous for having been concealed and suppressed for so long. That implies a struggle for survival within our species that is what probably horrifying those on the other side of the pond. I suspect that you well understand the dynamics involved.

    Sorry about the rambling nature of the response.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Laird

    Thanks, Subotai; interesting post (the “rambling” doesn’t bother me!). I think I have one of the “Foxfire” books in my library, but guess I should get the rest of the series. Also, Paladin Press has an interesting catalog which includes a lot of titles under the “survival” category (and many other categories as well) which probably bear exploration. (They bought out the old “Loompanics” catalog.)

    Unfortunately, I’m not near the coast; I suspect that people who are will have an easier time of it should the social order completely break down. Also, FWIW, “Laird” isn’t a nom de blog; it’s actually my first name (although there is very little Scottish in my ancestry; go figure).

  • Sunfish

    Laird and Subotai-
    It’s all because Bocephus is American, not English.

    2009: the year of good old tomatoes and homemade wine.