Ayn Rand: Don't call it a comeback!

Never mind the chaos caused by Wall Street's John Galts. "Atlas Shrugged" is ready for another closeup

Published June 25, 2009 9:46PM (EDT)

If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose -- because it contains all the others -- the fact that they were the people who created the phrase to make money. No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity -- to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created.

Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged"

To those of us who proudly consider ourselves non-Objectivist heathens, the events of the last two years would seem to be a mighty refutation of some of the core elements of Ayn Randian philosophy -- at least as applied to economics. We let the John Galts of Wall Street -- the Jimmy Caynes and Sanford Weills and John Thains and Angelo Mozilos -- do as they pleased, and they broke the economy. Government listened to those who declared that the pursuit of pure profit should be the ultimate arbiter of the organization of financial markets, and we ended up finding ourselves in the deepest economic contraction of our lifetimes. For anyone with the eyes to see, we were given compelling evidence that greed is not good, and that the single-minded pursuit of making money can be incredibly destructive to the fabric of society.

So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged"

Even Alan Greenspan, a self-avowed disciple of Ayn Rand and true believer in the wisdom of markets, was willing to fess up and tell Congress he "made a mistake." By any objective consideration, right now, today, the reputation of the businessman standing alone and tall as the hero of a productive society is at its lowest point in at least 40 years.

Which is why my eyes just about popped out of my head when I received an e-mail from FSB Associates a few hours ago, telling me that "now is finally the time to read [Atlas Shrugged]."

"Atlas Shrugged" is a book that has staying power. It has been a bestseller for more than four decades as well as an intellectual landmark. Written in 1957, this novel captures the issues our economy is facing right now, amazing even the most astute economic forecasters.

It is a philosophical revolution told in the form of an action thriller....

Please let me know if I can coordinate an interview and if you'd like a copy of the book for a possible feature. I'm looking forward to working with you on this timely novel.

If now is finally the time to read "Atlas Shrugged," then we are well and truly doomed. Somewhere beyond the grave, Milton Friedman is laughing his ass off.

But why do I even question Rand's relevance, regardless of what current events suggest to us? On this subject too, the philosopher cannot be gainsayed.

Why ask useless questions? How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky? Who is John Galt?

Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged"

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Ayn Rand How The World Works U.s. Economy