I should say I re-read Anthem. The first time I read was in Mrs. Burdick’s Romance and Realism in Literature class. The teacher who had introduced me to Vonnegut was also the same teacher who introduced me to Rand. As a child of the Cold War when I first read Anthem I saw it as an anti-communist manifesto. This was also my first thought after reading Atlas Shrugged because the place she was describing surely was not the United States I knew; however, the more I thought about it the more I realized how sick and twisted her worldview was.
The plot point in Atlas Shrugged that bothers me to no end is how Hank Reardon has created a new type of steel that is so strong it is putting his competitors out of business and how the government is behind the plot to make his steel out to be unsafe. This is the most preposterous plot device I have ever heard. The real world simply does not work like this. Hank Reardon is a businessman and if he has a superior product on the market his product will have the largest market share. It is also doubtful that with the demand this new and innovative steel has that Reardon’s own steel mills would be able to keep up with demand. Assuming he was a smart businessman he would have patented the process, which would lead him to license out the formula to his competition. Where he will make money off of every just about every piece of steel made in the country making him an even richer man.
That is the plot point that conservatives continually fail to grasp. The reality of the market that Rand describes in her book does not exist. It never has existed. Her entire philosophy is based on this bizarre idea that the world could not survive without the "makers." What she fails to understand, and what her followers like Congressman Paul Ryan fail to understand, is that without the so-called "takers" the "makers" would not be making a dime. Hank Reardon would not make one ounce of steel it were not for the men working in his steel mills.
Her novels are really nothing more than a call to return to the laissez-faire policies of the late 19th century when wages and working conditions were not regulated. People of all stripes, men, women, and even children worked, on average 60 hours a week for an average wage of twenty-four cents an hour, $14 a week, oftentimes risking their lives for that low wage. OSHA did not exist, if you got hurt on the job you were out of luck as there was no worker’s comp. Retirement meant you were no longer able to work so you lived your golden years out with your children or you made due with whatever scraps were thrown your way.
We know how well that era worked out for the working men and women of the United States. Yet we have the group of people who want to return to that era because of this myth that no regulations are good for us. An era where even an eighth grade education was not a given. What is even more bizarre about this is that they are basing the idea of returning to laissez-faire policies on a crappy novel with more plot holes than the latest summer blockbuster. If you are going to base your life on a novel at least make it something cool like an old Louis L'Amour dime store novel where the heroes are bigger than life and aren't assholes all the time.