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Tanya M. Acker Headshot

Atlas Shrugged and the Political Triumph of Myth

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Atlas Shrugged Part 2 just came out in theatres.

The book is better, my liking for it being one of the few things I have in common these days with Congressman Ryan (other than a healthy respect for his abs).

Dagny Taggart and the rest of the heroes in Atlas Shrugged never get it wrong. They are the intellectual and industrial engines of the earth on whom everyone else indolently relies -- noble creatures with few personal failings. They don't care who their employees marry nor do they notice the color of anyone's skin. (In the movie, Dagny's trusted Number 2 is African-American, which means she very likely would not be the type to throw peanuts at black camera-women who are doing their jobs at political conventions. She probably also wouldn't assume that black teens in hoodies should be forced to "show their papers" in order to avoid potentially deadly confrontations arising from the crime of being unfamiliar). A railroad heiress, Dagny even let a homeless vagrant stick around for dinner in her private train car and then gave him a job to boot!

What's more, none of the Atlas heroes' enterprises ever have any negative side effects. The people who breath the air and drink the water in oilman Ellis Wyatt's "Wyatt Junction," for instance, don't get asthma or deal with chemical contamination or wade through oil spills. I'd live there too. I bet my mother would have preferred it to the Jim Crow South in which she grew up.

Speaking of Ellis Wyatt, it's a good thing that Atlas Shrugged is set in an indeterminate point in the future. If it had been set in the past -- say, during the period when American oil exploration was just getting off the ground -- he might have been among those oilmen who received government subsidies in order to fund what was then a very risky enterprise. That would have ruined the whole story!

By the way, I also wonder what would have happened if an uninsured passenger who contracted tuberculosis ended up on one of Dagny's trains. Dagny, I'm sure, would have single-handedly located the best government-hating doctor she could find and then paid him a tidy sum so as to combat the outbreak. By contrast, a major airline once lost my suitcase for several days, its representatives telling me during that period that they simply had no idea where my bag was. No idea at all. There was "nothing [they] could do."

Dagny Taggart, I trust. Last time I checked, however, there was no Taggart Transcontinental terminal at JFK.

So, yes -- Atlas Shrugged is a fun book about inspired people who, in spite of a very wicked Big Government, manage to keep the trains running on time. To suggest, however, that it provides guidance on what government should be (by pointing out all the dastardly evils -- however exaggerated -- that will occur if laissez-faire absolutism is not permitted to carry the day) is like suggesting that Cinderella is a handbook on what a girl can expect on a first date.

I love Cinderella stories but it's always a good idea to have a backup plan.

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