Amity Shlaes: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Is Shrugging with a Growing Load

Writing for Bloomberg, Amity Shlaes has an interesting article about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. It begins:

Imagine a novel of more than a thousand pages, published half a century ago. The author doesnâ??t have a talk-radio show and has been dead for 27 years.

As for the storyline, it is beyond dated: Humorless executives fight with humorless public officials over an industry that is, today, almost irrelevant to the U.S. economy – - railroads. The prose itself is a disconcerting mixture of philosophy, industrial policy, and bodice-ripping: â??The wind blew her hair to blend with his. She knew why he had wanted to walk through the mountains tonight.â?

In short, you would think â??Atlas Shruggedâ? might be long forgotten.

Instead, Ayn Randâ??s novel is remembered more than ever. This year the book is selling at a faster rate than last year. Last year, sales were about 200,000, higher than any year before that, including 1957, when the book was published.

Some assumed the libertarian philosopher would fall from view when the Berlin Wall fell. Or that at least there would be a sense of mission accomplished. One Rand fan, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, wrote in his memoir that he regretted Rand hadnâ??t lived until 1989 or 1990. Sheâ??d missed the collapse of communism that she had so often predicted.

But â??Atlas Shruggedâ? is becoming a political â??Harry Potterâ? because Rand shone a spotlight on a problem that still exists: Not pre-1989 Soviet communism, but 2009-style state capitalism. Rand depicted government and companies colluding in the name of economic rescue at the expense of the entrepreneur. That entrepreneur is like the titan Atlas who carries the rest of the world on his shoulders — until he doesnâ??t.

See the full article for much more.

Thanks to Greg Feirman for the tip. Greg also says Shlaes’s book The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (2007) is a good read, for anyone interested in the topic.