Funny, we never thought of Atlas Shrugged…

I just finished watching the movie of Atlas Shrugeed, Part 1. Bad. Movie. Made me long from a Randian world because then the screenwriters would be doing something useful, like making machine parts or driving cabs, rather than being paid to write such a horrific adaptation of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus.

Now, admittedly, I read Atlas Shrugged when I was 23, and so my opinion of the novel might be different now, 15 years later. But I remember it as a diverting mix of somewhat florid potboiler with political and economic philosophy, and except for the 50-some-odd pages late in the book taken up by John Galt’s broadcast to the world (dense, dreary, political philosophy diatribe; it felt like I spent a good part of a year trying to finish it) it was more about “show” and less about “tell.” Which made it much more persuasive.

The screenwriters, faced with boiling it down into a feature-length film (and not even the whole book — though the movie as so bad, I hope they don’t try to tackle Part 2) decided to write the dialogue as a Cliff’s Notes version of Rand’s ideas. Simultaneously didactic and shallow, and eminently mock-worthy.  Favorite example:

Dagney: It’s a real mystery why the 20th Century motor Company failed.

Henry: It’s no mystery: bad ideas brought it down.

Dagney: Ideas?

Henry: As I understand it, the company flattened the wage scale, and still paid everyone according to their needs, not according to their contributions.

Dagney: Why all these stupid, altruistic urges; it’s not being charitable or fair. What is it with people today?

However, if you can get past the cringeworthy oversimplifications and stilted dialogue coming out of the actors’ mouths, the movie was a quick reminder of the gist of the book. And the book is, after all, all about the relationship between Owner-Founders, their Companies, and the Government, and the capitalist system in general. (And specifically: a critique of government regulations on Big Business, the idea of a government “controlling” the economy / state capitalism, and really the existence of government at all. Made me think of David Friedman’s anarcho-capitalist writings.) So, I don’t know, something for us to peruse?

I was also reminded of a conversation I had once about Atlas Shrugged, in which it was proposed that maybe Ayn Rand’s vision of free-market capitalism would fail in the real workd for the same reason Marxism does: both ideologies, though diametrically opposed to one another, are far too optimistic about human nature. People just aren’t that good, or fair.


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