Atlas Summer: Part Two: Chapter Five: Account Overdrawn

SPIRITWOOD, N.D.—A hulking yellow machine inched along Old Highway 10 here recently in a summer scene that seemed as normal as the nearby corn swaying in the breeze. But instead of laying a blanket of steaming blacktop, the machine was grinding the asphalt road into bits.

“When [counties] had lots of money, they paved a lot of the roads and tried to make life easier for the people who lived out here,” said Stutsman County Highway Superintendant Mike Zimmerman, sifting the dusty black rubble through his fingers. “Now, it’s catching up to them.”

Outside this speck of a town, pop. 78, a 10-mile stretch of road had deteriorated to the point that residents reported seeing ducks floating in potholes, Mr. Zimmerman said. As the road wore out, the cost of repaving became too great. Last year, the county spent $400,000 on an RM300 Caterpillar rotary mixer to grind the road up, making it look more like the old homesteader trail it once was.

Paved roads, historical emblems of American achievement, are being torn up across rural America and replaced with gravel or other rough surfaces as counties struggle with tight budgets and dwindling state and federal revenue. State money for local roads was cut in many places amid budget shortfalls.

“Roads to Ruin: Towns Rip Up the Pavement,” by Lauren Etter, Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2010

29/04/2010 – Kenya is wooing China for assistance to accelerate its infrastructure development. President Mwai Kibaki has formally requested the Chinese Government to partner with Kenya on key development projects.

Chapter V: Account Overdrawn

Pages: 496 – 531

Summary: The chapter begins with a classic Rand set piece.  Because of the laws passed by the looters, trains can’t run, good can’t get delivered, and people starve.  The ossified economy and suffering masses are reminiscent of passages from The Grapes of Wrath.  For the first time in its history, Rearden Steel also fails to deliver its shipment of Metal on time.  Interspersed between these scenes of disaster and pain, Bertram Scudder comforts humanity with his fatuous bromides.

The notorious Minnesota bridge collapse.

Meanwhile Dagny has to deal with the Taggart Board.  Amidst the usual gang of idiots sits the ambiguous government man named Mr. Weatherby.  Rand, who was overly specific and lengthy in the description of economic mayhem, takes the easy way out by making Mr. Weatherby a figure of unknown powers.

“The Directors did not know whether he was present as the guest, the adviser or the ruler of the Board; they preferred not to find out.”

While the unknown status of Mr. Weatherby provides an indictment for the cowering mentally deficient attitudes of the Board members, it also shows Rand’s inability to flesh out her world-building.  Thus far, except for Rearden’s performance before the Economic Planning tribunal, the “Government” has been an invisible monolith.  Mr. Weatherby is another manqué, more a caricature than anything resembling a human being.

Controversy erupts as Mr. Weatherby insist that Taggart Transcontinental keep following the dictums of the government in addition to raising freight rates.  Dagny can’t stand it anymore and leaves the Board table to stare pensively at the window.  She ponders the calamities befalling the economy and then says, “Got what you’ve been asking for, all these years, gentlemen?”  The Board members complain that this situation has happened because the wrong people are in power, especially the ominously named Buzzy Watts, Chick Morrison, Kip Chalmers, and Tinky Holloway.  Apparently, the looters are Teletubbies.  (Maybe the late “Reverend” Jerry Falwell was on to something in his fear of UK television shows aimed at pre-toddlers?)

The faces of pure evil: Buzzy Watts, Chick Morrison, Kip Chalmers, and Tinky Holloway.

Dagny eventually leaves the farcical proceedings and determines to find a way to continue the railroad.  She remembers another Tall Tale of Nat Taggart, Mogul of Awesome.  Taggart refused to bow down to the city fathers and barge monopolists who were against him building a railroad bridge.  It’s a callback to an earlier event in the chapter, since the economic cataclysm involved many bridges collapsing, except the one built by Nat Taggart, Real Man of Genius™.

James Taggart then meets Lillian Rearden for a nefarious meeting that essentially boils down to quid pro quo.  She doesn’t reveal Hank’s philandering, but implies to James that she knows how to turn over Hank.

The chapter ends in an act of Objectivist Heroism.  Lillian wants to set up a public embarrassment for Hank, since she refuses to divorce him.  When a dozen roses are sent to Hank, he does not show up.  She ends up finding him on a railroad platform and is about to discover who he’s carrying on, expecting some chorus girl or other brainless slut.  She discovers Dagny Taggart.  After insulting Dagny’s honor, Hank says if she insults Dagny that way again, “If you ever do it again, I will answer you as I would answer a hoodlum: I will beat you up.”

Our Hero everybody!  Hank gives Lillian a talkin’ to.

In the 35th Anniversary Edition, Rand has this to say about Rearden when she was drafting her novel:

For Rearden – the friend.  The kind of understanding and appreciation he has always wanted and did not know he wanted (or he thought he had it – he tried to find it in those around him, to get it from his wife, his mother, brother and sister).”

When have threats of spousal abuse ever been heroic?

Observations: Once again, the chapter throws together a lot of disparate elements and weaves them into a single hysterical mass.  The set piece was well done, handled in a manner similar to Steinbeck’s depiction of rural poverty in the Grapes of Wrath.  As the two excerpted stories show above, we live in a far different time than that of the Okies and the Fifties when Atlas Shrugged cemented Rand’s reputation as moral philosopher.  While the Grapes of Wrath is grounded in literary realism (shades of Zola and Balzac), Atlas Shrugged has all this economic devastation occurring in an artificially constructed world.  Granted, economies were ossified and dying in the Eastern Bloc nations, Rand should have been more explicit about what this Government actually is in the novel?  Until some reveals in the next chapter, I was confused.  Because of our nation’s longstanding tradition of the Revolving Door and Corporate-Government partnership (for good and ill), the antagonistic portrait seemed absurd.

Either-Or?  That’s a good one.  Objective reality says otherwise, Ms. Rand.

Infrastructure and Ideology

Reading Atlas Shrugged in 2010 (versus reading it in 1957) is how radically the world has changed.  In 1957, the world was in a Manichean battle between the planned economies of a monolithic international Communism (before the USSR-China split) and free market capitalism.  Notice how it is not a battle between human rights.  In 2010, China has embraced the free market economy (but not democracy) while Russia has cowboy capitalism and reawakened imperialist ambitions.

Translated Chinese Text: “China will triumph when fat Americans from the Midwest buy our cheap crap at Wal-Mart and other Big Box retail stores!”

Kissinger writes in his memoirs how China’s long history and inscrutable foreign policy made it ripe for détente.  Because of China’s long history, the country could adapt and modify outside philosophies and political systems to its advantage.  China is eternal, unlike Communism, although, at present, Communism fits its purpose within the scheme of things.  As Deng Xiaoping said, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”  So one should not be surprised at China’s latest permutation: the cultivation of a market-based economy, albeit one firmly entrenched within the Communist totalitarian political system.  The revenue accrued from American consumption of cheap goods has fueled China’s economic growth.  Now that growth is being used to fund infrastructure projects in other nations.  A Marshall Plan of sorts fed by American consumption of cheap crap bought at Wal-Mart and other big box retail giants.  The delineation between communist and capitalist has grown gray and muddy.

Giant government subsidized infrastructure program.  Eisenhower knew more about nation-building than Ayn Rand.

During the Fifties, the Eisenhower Administration helped initiate a major civic project: the interstate highway system.  This major government project created new roads in part to facilitate escape routes in case of a nuclear war.  The results turned out a little differently, since the interstate highway system assisted in White Flight, suburban sprawl, and the demise of the railroads.  But one thing stands eternal, interstate transportation projects will always require government funding.  The world of Nat Taggart and Atlas Shrugged still exists as pure fantasy for libertarian idealists untouched by the vagaries of how the world actually works.  It is truly a strange thing to have the United States ripping up its interstate road system while China builds up the infrastructure of foreign nations.

A Grover that’s more of a monster than the one on Sesame Street.

Rand and her minions can be blamed as directly responsible for our crumbling infrastructure.  Twenty years of sustained rhetoric about “drowning the beast” and slashing domestic spending has led to this sorry state.  I hope that this will satisfy Grover Norquist, the Right’s own version of Balph Eubanks.  The “drown the beast” oratory coupled with a sclerotic two-party system that enshrines bland compromise and empty rhetoric all the while bullying citizens into abandoning third party ambitions.  Both parties want a stupid, hidebound, unimaginative, and obedient populace.  Fewer voters are fewer worries for the pollsters, advisors, and donors who want the strings on their political puppet nice and tight.  Heaven forbid a candidate should actually say something that might not appeal to 51% of the population and contradict the vague meaningless poll questions.  No wonder everyone pushes optimism and hope, the alternative is too dismal to contemplate.

“We can build ourselves a monster if we all pull together as a team!”

Politics, like Objectivist philosophy, is an enterprise based on personal enrichment, philandering, and weapons grade moral hypocrisy.  Meanwhile, the citizens have been duped into thinking a candidate’s confessional brand loyalty actually matters to them, despite their shrinking pocket books and wars bleeding the national treasury white.  Despite a seriously demented moral philosophy encased in a book rife with intellectual dishonesty and characters who filibuster the reader to drive the point home, Rand at least has the decency to go for the jugular.  Despite successes at the polls, the Left is still too afraid to exploit a political windfall for fear of offending someone who might actually deserve to be ridiculed, pilloried, and generally laughed at.  Just because the tent is bigger doesn’t mean the Left has to play nice and parrot dead concepts like “bipartisanship” and “healing.”  The Red Army had the right idea when it cut a swath of destruction from the gates of Stalingrad to the front lobby of the Reichstag.  Objectivists are right to laugh at Leftist political caucuses that have all the bite and innovation of an Are You Being Served? marathon.  Politics is bloodsport.

Further Tales from the Legend of Nat Taggart

Despite its enormous size and potential use as a bludgeon, Atlas Shrugged existed in a much larger form.  The Limited Edition Executive Edition of Atlas Shrugged runs nearly 7000 pages long.  It is reputed that Tony Hayward, Objectivist Hero and Living Embodiment of Ellis Wyatt, has a copy of the text in his Maybach.  Not sure which Maybach?  Maybe the one he uses on Thursdays?  But reading Atlas Shrugged and learning its valuable life lessons (philandering, ruthlessness, a Michigan Militia-like hatred for governments), you’ll be able to make tons of money and drive to your business in a gold-encrusted Maybach.

In the Executive Edition, we learn more about the legendary Nat Taggart.  The standard edition poor people read only has driblets of Nat Taggart’s heroic deeds.  Through my contacts with the Trilateral Commission and Chase Manhattan Bank, I was able to get my hands on an Executive Edition and offer you a summary of Nat Taggart’s deeds.  These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Building a bridge by himself, despite the threats from the barge industry and the city fathers.
  • Killing a bear when he was only three.
  • Kills men by the hundreds and consumes the English with fireballs from his eyes and lightning from his arse.  (That might be William Wallace.  I get the two confused.)
  • Ate an entire train piece by piece that he derailed with his penis.
  • Drank Winston Churchill under the table.
  • Annexed Poland.
  • Beat Daniel Plainview in a game of bowling … by knocking down a seven-ten split.
  • Did a Triple Lindy and won the Bushwood Golf Tournament.
  • Beat Stephen Fry in Scrabble.
  • Defeated Communism.

“I refuse your modest tax increase over a ten year period!  FOR FREEDOM!”

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  1. September 8, 2010 at 12:01 am

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