Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Atlas Shrugged Part I

So I saw the movie on Friday. I thoroughly enjoyed it and left the theatre wanting more and hoping that the next two parts make their way in to film. Anyone who believes in the ideals of the American Revolution or who otherwise identifies with libertarian thinking should not hesitate to see the film.

However, it's also clear that this film isn't going to be a popular watershed. This isn't going to be the work that finally brings Rand to a larger audience and exposes the craven nature of our modern democratic fascist state or the film that converts the hordes of Twitter and Facebook Obama-bots into Randian Tea Party activists.
I think P.J summarized it best in his WSJ article (http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/06/atlas-shrugged-and-so-did-i/). He seems less than thrilled with the film.

I agree that this film simply isn't going to connect with a modern audience indoctrinated their entire lives with leftist thinking and I think a big part of the problem is the book itself. A lot has changed in the last 50 years.
Back in 1957 the era of the industrial titans was still in view and the impulse to attack the Hank Reardens of the world was much stronger. A 90% tax on income in excess of $3.1 million (2011 dollars) protected the truly wealthy from the very high wage earners from joining their ranks and legislated a level of anti-rich idiocy that makes an anti-dog-eat-dog bill sound plausible.
Tax rates at 90% destroyed a substantial amount of wealth and produced very little to show for it in the way of revenues. At this level, people absolutely do "go Galt" and either stop working or direct their efforts at attaining non-income compensation like perks and status.
But apart from the lost productivity of a handful of very productive people, the middle class was largely unscathed. How many people in 1957 were making the equivalent of $3.1 million?
TODAY, the situation is much different. The fascist state has grown so monstrous that it spends or controls the spending of nearly have of our income on average and close to two thirds of the value created by our most productive workers.
So our current level of government simply cannot be funded with additional taxes on the 1% of the workers with the highest income in a given year and the truly wealthy in this era of internationalization continue to face little or no threat to their wealth from government.
To fund this level of government requires a less progressive tax system as a matter of mathematics and basic economics and that is precisely what has happened in western Europe where the truly wealthy remain aloof as the middle class is increasingly crushed by a social welfare state that rewards mediocrity, sloth and dependency.
A modern day remake Atlas Shrugged would need to focus on the talented and hard-working participants in the private, productive sector of the economy as they are increasingly burdened with the support of a swelling mass of unproductive, public sector free-loaders who have become accustomed to feeding off the labor of a shrinking pool of private sector workers.
50 years ago when socialist ideas were more in vogue perhaps the wealthy industrialists would have faced being crushed, but today it's just a cost of doing business. The Hank Reardons of the world seldom rise to be the great titans of industry and ultimately large corporations end up being run by politicians fully comfortable in the murky world of influence-peddling and private-public collusion.
When genuine Hank Reardons (Vernon Hill springs to mind) do manage to build something noteworthy, they always have the option to "go Galt" in style by selling their firm and retiring.
In today's world of the fascist, third-way corporatism, it's the middle class and especially the upwardly-mobile who feel the effects of the mealy-mouthed politicians and executives who use the government's monopoly on force to line their pockets and increase their power.
So what to do with Atlas Shrugged in light of these problems? Personally, I would have liked to see it updated in a way that made sense to a modern audience, but would Hank Rearden really be Hank Rearden if he were anything less than a titan of industry? Probably, not.
Therefore the film is doomed to be a sort of illustrated classic and as such it succeeds quite well. Now if only they sell enough tickets to make those next two episodes...

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