Seek the Original: Atlas Shrugged part 3
Well here we are again for the last time. The final part of Ayn Rand's soap opera, Atlas Shrugged part 3. I've given this book and the movies (( part 1 | part 2: The Strike)) way too much of my time, but here are a couple new points I want to add to the part two review.
by Ayn Rand
Point number 11: In Ayn Rand's world, the best and the brightest and the hardest-working and the most deserving people move up and become managers, acquiring great wealth as they go, while the do-nothings stay at the bottom and whine about not getting their fair share. Therefore, if a person is doing menial work, he deserves to be there because he hasn't tried hard enough to get out of it.
But we don't live in a meritocracy. The people who do the best work don't always move up in the company, and there aren't enough spots at the top for everybody to be there, so there will always be people stuck at the bottom whether they "deserve" to be there or not.
One of my roommates remarked that as long as I've been with [retail], I should be a district manager or something. That's very telling of how we still perceive the working world. We still have the mindset that people who are there the longest and do the best work move up in the company, and the underachievers stay at the bottom or drop out completely.
It doesn't work that way anymore, I told him. Managers are hired based on whether they have a college degree, not whether they're good for the position. That old model of good workers moving up as a reward is gone, if it ever existed. Leadership does not come from within, rather it's hired from the outside, and the tip-top spots of the largest companies are often filled by lawyers and former politicians whose rich friends got them the job, not people who do work. And yet, we still cling to the fantasy that hard work is rewarded.
These days, there isn't even much reward for moving up. At the [retail] company I work for, the managers have mandatory 10-hour days, usually more, work overtime without time-and-a-half pay, are on call 24/7, pretty much have to do anything and everything we can't get done, all for a lousy 30,000 - 50,000 a year (so I've read). It's pathetic how much they have to give up just for that wage, and even then that kind of money is only just barely enough to survive these days. Some of them make less than us hourlies if you factor in the unpaid overtime.
Worldwide, things are becoming so centralized that even the manager positions are being converted into generic jobs any yahoo could do, while all the real decisions are made one or two levels higher, at district or corporate level.
Hell, even the TV show "Undercover Boss" makes this clear at times! One episode I saw featured the C.O.O. of Churchill Downs. How did he get his job? He was a corporate lawyer, and he had a connection. Meanwhile, one person who actually works at the downs thinks if she keeps going with a racing career like she is, someday she'll run the place! She has no idea how to get there, but she's working in the industry, taking care of the horses, so she must be on the right path, yeah?
Nope. That's not how it works anymore. Not that it can't happen. Some companies still do promote from within and they still train people and teach them things, but it happens a lot less often than we've been led to believe. "If I work hard, I'll prosper" is a modern-day pauper's attitude! The rich don't think like that. They think, "I'll use my money to make more money, and I'll prosper even more!"
My optometrist, a man who has been around a while, told me that once upon a time there was reward for loyalty, back when you dealt with individuals. Now everything is corporations. There is no humanity left in America.
Point 12: The book's main characters, Dagny Taggart, Francisco d'Anconia, and even Jim Taggart were all born into money, had privileged educations and received privileged job opportunities. They are supposed to be the examples of hardworking men and women? They did nothing to earn their head-start in life, their positions, or their influence!
True, Dagny had to work her way up in the railroad from the bottom, but she rises to Chief Operations Officer quickly because she did good work and surpassed all the other lazy whiners who didn't work as hard. See point 11.
Hank Rearden is the only one who seems to have had no privilege and started from nothing. He's obviously inspired by John D. Rockefeller, or maybe Andrew Carnegie. Problem is these two individuals are terrible examples after whom to model your ideal capitalist.
Did Rockefeller innovate or work hard or compete fairly in his industry to become the best at what he did? No, the only thing he did was consolidate the industry, bringing as much of it as possible under his control. Either he bought his competition out or drove it out of business through price manipulation and other tactics. Then, when he found competitors he could not control, he formed a cartel to manipulate the market to his benefit, such as controlling production to reduce the oil on the market and force prices to go up. This "trust" was so successful other industries imitated it, and thus the modern business practice of consolidation to maximize profit was born.
As for Carnegie, he gained favor with a railroad owner as a child and was groomed to take over the business. Nothing he did, nothing he earned, he just happened to catch the eye of the man in charge and got appointed to a position of favor. We should all be so lucky.
Point 13: The book can best be summarized by Rand's own frame of reference: Robin Hood, the man who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. He is the symbol of the idea that the rich don't deserve their wealth, and the people demanded their share because it just isn't right for one person to have plenty while everyone else has so little. This mentality has been the greatest evil mankind has ever known. A person's wealth is a measure of his value to society, therefore if the wealthy don't deserve their money, the greatest people in society can't be productive and keep the rest of society afloat.
That's Rand in a nutshell, and this analogy is in the book. You can tell who the hardest-working people are by how much money they have, so don't get in their way, because what is best for them is best for everyone.
I don't know what legend of Robin Hood exists in Ayn Rand's universe, but the Robin Hood I heard of was a man who stole from the rich what the rich stole from the people, which made them poor in the first place. These were noblemen who did not innovate, did not deserve their position, did nothing to create their wealth, but instead robbed their subjects with unfair taxes and oppressive laws. The rich people in Robin Hood's time were parasites on the commoners, so I and the rest of the world call it justice to rob from them and give it back to the victims.
Ah, but Rand would disagree! She would suggest that it was the people's obligation not to rob in retaliation, but to create their own wealth! As if that were possible in a society with no upward mobility.
I think it's hilarious that Rand's philosophy is basically the same as Marxism. What did Marx believe in? What was communism? Marx wanted to see a world wherein a person's work benefited himself or herself, not the capitalist's world, wherein a person's work benefits only the factory-owners. Marx wanted a world were people were free to live and work as they pleased, however they pleased, instead of being at the mercy of capitalists who had control of people's employment, and therefore their lives. Marx wanted a world where people were not forced into a system in which their hard work supports a tiny elite's rich lifestyle. Rand preaches the same thing, but inside out.
"Workers have no more rights over their employers than supermarkets have over their customers. I can fire my supermarket and hire another one at any time and without notice. The only right a worker has is the right to quit. This one right is the source of all improvements in working conditions in history. Every single positive aspect of a job is part of your wage. If the worker believes he can get a higher wage elsewhere then he will quit and the capitalist has lost his opportunity to make money." --from Facebook.
The conservative point of view is starting to make sense. In theory, workers sell their labor on an open market. Everything should work like a market, and markets will provide the answers for all our problems.
It's not that simple. What if you live in a place with only one supermarket? Have fun driving forty miles to the next town to buy ketchup.
Likewise, in small towns, there was often merely one factory (or mine) which employed the majority of the people. If people didn't like it there, they had nowhere else to go. When one or two major employers dominated one town, people could not simply up and move to another town with a better employer. This is less of a restriction these days, so long as you have a car and can afford to keep it running, but moving still costs money--money you don't have unless you're working. People are not infinitely mobile.
If people demanded fair wages and decent hours, the factory simply packed up and moved somewhere else, where labor was cheaper and more plentiful. Employees were demonized for making "unreasonable demands" on the factory and driving it away. Demanding livable wages and hours that don't suck up your entire life is considered an "entitlement" attitude, and the business is made to look like the victim.
There is no pressure on employers to attract the best employees, only to find the cheapest, least-demanding workforce. Employment is a requirement among the people. It is not an option; we all need jobs to make a living and survive. This automatically puts the advantage on the employers because they know people need jobs, so employers can put demands on us and we have to accept. Now if people didn't need to have jobs, then you bet employers would start giving incentives for people to leave their happy, self-sufficient lives to sell their time for a wage instead. But as long as people need jobs, the power is always with the employer.
The idea of people selling their labor in a marketplace implies labor itself is subject to the laws of supply and demand. In times of plenty, with low unemployment, labor is expensive and employees can get what they want. But in times of high unemployment, the value of labor in general cheapens, and there is nowhere else to go.
Again, in the early days of capitalism, this was the attitude. Don't like your job? Quit and find a better one. But since there were no laws requiring a minimum wage, safe working conditions, overtime pay, etc., nobody had to offer them. Everybody was doing the same things, and there were no better places for workers to go. Employers did not compete for the best workers at all because supply and demand made labor cheap, and the people needed employment. They were in no position to make demands because the business could fire everyone and hire cheaper workers.
Nobody is competing for your wonderful labor. As long as employment remains a requirement for earning a living, there is no marketplace of labor.
Point 15: In Ayn Rand's world, there is no such thing as external circumstances. The weather, genetics, sickness, the laws of physics, or what have you. Everything in the universe is within man's control, therefore if you fail, you just didn't try hard enough and are making excuses not to work hard.
Yes, our choices do lead us to certain ends, but sometimes shit just happens and you deal with it. Sometimes, in spite of doing everything right, you just don't succeed. It's not somebody's fault.
Yes, it's important to form good habits and make good choices, but sometimes poverty is not a matter of choice. If you want people to stop being poor, teach them how to live another way! Don't just assign responsibility. People live the way they were taught, and if they are not shown a different way to live, they will not even be aware of the opportunities and options open to them.
"Well, they can get a better education and lift themselves out of poverty!"
By going into debt while they work three jobs to afford rent, food and car repair? It is not as easy as "lifting oneself" out of poverty.
While we're on the subject, are there better places to work? Is there a way to be self-sufficient without having to put in 50 or 60 hours a week?
What good does getting a skill do these days? Managers don't just notice good employees and promote them. If you work hard, companies see you as a perfect candidate to dump more work on you for no extra pay. Employers also don't want a skilled workforce. They want high turnover to keep wages low. They want people who don't remember what things were like before, when they didn't have to do the work of three people for the pay of one. No matter what we do, we'll be at the mercy of corporate decisions.
Even if we start our own businesses in order to create our own wealth, we'll be slaves to those instead. It's harder than ever to start a business because America (and, increasingly, the world economy) is an oligopoly, not a free market. Things are set up to keep the big players in power, not allow newcomers to rise to the top as they deserve. Small businesses have to start off competing with big business, and things are so expensive these days that's next to impossible. Gone are the days when people worked for mom-'n'-pop grocery stores. We almost have no choice but to seek employment from large companies because they're the ones who can pay a living wage and benefits.
Thanks to his job, my roommate is self-sufficient at last but works so many hours he has no life to show for it. During the Christmas season, I worked 40 hours a week at my job for the first time in many years, and I'd be in the same position if I got that all year. No time to think. No time to live. No time to organize. No time to write. Just the way the peasantry should be.
People talk about being tough enough to succeed, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps to make it big. Problem is we have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps just to survive, to say nothing of "succeeding." It should not be this way. I don't want to spend my life working. I want to live.
There's a reason the rich are so unbelievably rich these days. Wealth inequality is not just bashing the rich, blaming them for all our problems. It's a symptom of a larger problem. It means big business has decreased wages and benefits for their employees and pocketed the profits.
When people say greed is killing this country, they mean it. Companies make these kinds of cuts because the shareholders demand a return on investment and the executives want more for themselves. After a point, the only way to increase profits is to squeeze the workers, and that's the world in which we live today.
The wealthy have gotten rich at our expense. They are not always the hardest-working people in society. They are not always the brightest, the smartest, or the most innovate people. What's best for them is not best for us. They have influence with politicians that we don't, and they have written the laws to favor the businessman, not people who actually do the work, or the small business that may grow up to challenge them with honorable competition. That's why it takes two and three jobs to make ends meet these days--why we have to attend college and start off with debt just to get a basic, living-wage job. Big government isn't bullying the rich and the large corporations they own, forcing unreasonable policies onto them. The rich and the businesses they own are bullying the government, forcing it to pass laws in their favor, not ours. It wasn't always like this. That's the issue. Nobody's badmouthing success, or saying people who do more work don't deserve more reward. We're only saying that this is not progress.
Now let's take a look at...
Atlas Shrugged part 3: Who is John Galt? (2014)
starring Laura Regan
Inconsistency could almost pass for the style of these films. None of the actors are the same between any of the three movies. Between movies 1 and 2, it was barely noticeable. Here, the actors are so unsuited for the characters and have so little to work with title cards appear as each character makes his or her first appearance on screen so we know who the players are this time. Those title cards list character name and occupation. (They should have listed attack/defense/special move stats, too.)
Hank Rearden isn't even in this movie, but we hear him briefly in a voiceover... and the voice is terrible. Then there's Francisco d'Anconia. Um, what happened?? In the book, as well as the first two films, this man is Dagny's peer! The actor who plays him is now twenty years her senior! Ditto for Jim Taggart, Dagny's brother! He looks like Dagny's father! What happened?!
It's as if the entire movie was cast in order to make the character of John Galt appear to be the only normal person. He's the only actor who has anything to work with, and he is the hero of the entire trilogy. The other characters around him are bland and miscast because they don't matter, since the attention is on Galt anyway.
So part three of the book is all about Dagny crash-landing in a mountain valley and discovering where all the rich businessmen have fled. They have founded a paradise of capitalism, where everyone is an entrepreneur and therefore there are no poor people to push them around anymore. No government to push them around anymore. No laws. No Occupy Wall Street protestors picketing their hard-earned wealth. Just honorable competition among capitalists. You would not know this from watching the movie alone because the movie does not show how this society works, or why it works.
Dagny doesn't want to stay. She is so ALPHA CAPITALIST she feels compelled to return to the real world and try to hold things together a while longer. She has a railroad to run, and she is going to run it in spite of the incompetent,
As with the first and second films, Ayn Rand's message was partially changed from an anti-communist agenda to an anti-government agenda. Some parts are still anti-communist, and other parts are warnings about what happens when government gets too big and tries to bully the smartest, most productive people in society. It is still hard to discern exactly what the movie's point is.
So let's talk about this paradise. The movie doesn't show or explain how this place works. It only hints that this is a place where the rich (read: the most talented, productive people) are not forced to provide for the poor (read: people who refuse to work for themselves).
In the book, Rand explains what that means: everyone in the valley is an entrepreneur. Rand's definition of "not asking anyone to live for the sake of another" involves starting a business and thereby creating one's own wealth. Galt's Gulch is a valley of unlimited natural resources, everyone works, and everyone prospers because there are no lazy people creating a government to force the hard-working rich people to provide for them.
As I mentioned in my part two review, there is no competition in this valley. For example, there is a steel mill here, run by a man named Stockton. When he first arrived, he had to drive a competitor out of business, and he remarks:
"When I came here, he and his partner had a sort of combination hand-forge and repair shop. I opened a real foundry, and took all their customers away from them. The boy couldn't do the kind of job I did, it was only a part-time business for him, anyway--sculpture is his real business--so he came to work for me. He's making more money now, in shorter hours, than he used to make in his own foundry. His partner was a chemist, so he went into agriculture and he's produced a chemical fertilizer that's doubled some of the crops around here
He goes on to say that when Hank Rearden comes to the valley, Hank will probably drive Stockton out of business.
What a casual way to look at your own demise. No, this is not how a businessman would react. He would not just accept that a better steelmaker has come along and he should accept defeat and move aside for Hank. No, he will squeeze his workforce, forcing them to put in longer hours, neglecting equipment maintenance and safety to reduce costs and undercut his competitor. Anything to survive!
Likewise, John Galt has invented an engine that can pull static electricity from the air, and I don't think Ken Danagger, who owns the coal mines, would be happy about that. The movie doesn't even mention a coal-mining tycoon is in the valley. It avoids showing any hints of competition or conflict between these business owners. It's just a happy paradise where everyone prospers because everyone works.
Apparently, in Ayn Rand's world, when someone makes a steel mill more efficient, the employer will be free to reduce the number of hours employees have to work proportionally. Thus as efficiency reaches its peak, people will only have to work a few hours a day to produce the same amount of goods, and workers will have more free time to pursue their own interests and create more wealth for themselves.
Bullshit, Rand. Bullshit. That is not what happens at all. As efficiency goes up, we are simply expected to work more because now we have so much more time to do so. Companies must lower prices and increase profits in the face of competition, and the executives demand bigger and bigger salaries, and the investors want more returns, so it's up to the workers to produce more and more. As machines replace living-wage jobs, people are just expected to work even more to keep up with the machines. Likewise, since machines can do the job cheaper, the pressure is on employees to become cheaper than the machines either by reducing their cost, or working longer.
Plus, who is buying all this steel these people are producing? Who is buying the oil? Who is buying everything?? There can't be that much demand in this little valley! To say nothing about the pollution all this industry is creating. They're in a valley, and there are no laws in this community! Businesses are free to dump as many carcinogens and toxins in the water and soil as they please! The wastewater and smog won't just go away, they will settle and seep into the water supply, giving everybody disease and poisoning their crops!
And someone has invented a new chemical fertilizer that has increased crop yield? Sounds like Monsanto has relocated to Galt's Gulch. God help them.
Ayn Rand is trying to say if we give people the freedom to innovate and work hard, they will create great things for the better of mankind and all our problems will be solved. This whole setup exists completely outside of reality. Capitalism does not work like this, free markets have never worked like this, and yet there are millions of people out there who think they do.
The third movie does something that the first two movies should have done: tell the larger parts of the story with voiceover narration. This could have been an effective way to show the effects of the decisions of the evil bureaucrats, and how they hinder business and end up destroying the nation. Alas, it comes across as Rocky & Bullwinkle narration trying to inject excitement into the situation. It actually works in Rocky & Bullwinkle (why is that word in the dictionary??), but in Atlas Shrugged, it only helps us take an unexciting situation less seriously.
It tells story that wasn't even there in the first two movies, like the pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld. The first two movies left out this man raiding and sinking the ships on the high seas, and now he's suddenly here? In the book, the evil communist-US government is shipping raw materials to other countries to try and prop up their government policies of giving handouts to people who don't work. Ragnar prevents those ships from reaching port and takes back the raw materials to give it to the rich people who worked for them. None of this is mentioned in the movie.
The narration tells story in order to skip any kind of buildup. Towards the end, there's a quick cut to show the Taggart bridge collapsed, but it doesn't explain why it collapsed, how it collapsed, or why the evil government is to blame.
Finally, the death of Jim Taggart's wife (what's her name?) is told in flashback for some reason. Why couldn't it have been shown as it happened? It would have been easy, but that would have required some buildup. Dagny and ...she, would have had to talk at some point. She and Jim would have had to talk, and the movie would have had to show something happening. So much easier to tell it. So much cheaper. Doesn't help the story, but it's on screen now, even if it is effect with no cause.
Atlas Shrugged part 3 is actually the hardest of the three films to watch. It's boring. It's dull. The actors are even less into their roles than before, they have even less to work with than ever, and the trilogy's point never becomes clear.
The movie does have one moment of clarity where the point almost comes across. In the valley, when Dagny is speaking to a particular character (can't remember who, and it doesn't matter anyway), he says:
"They promote the idea that it's okay to take from one man and give to another ... You've heard them say that all people have a right to a living just because they're human. And that's not a right to earn a living, that's a right to a living which you are required to provide for them. ... Their philosophy is based on how much you sacrifice to other people, not on what you achieve."
"That philosophy can't work," replies Dagny.
"Unless you continue to work and work and work and try to overcome all the obstacles which they have created for you. And no matter how much they take from you, they still count on your work ethic, your integrity, your desire to keep producing. ... As long as you continue to accept it, they will continue to exploit your incredible abilities."
Really, mister sock puppet for Rand's anti-communist ideology? You don't see how easy it is to make the progressive's point with those same words? You don't see all the people who work and work and work so you can have your opulent lifestyle? People like you cut staff, force more work on fewer and fewer employees, outsource jobs, and force your employees to work twice as hard just to keep their heads above water, and then blame the people for being poor! Who is working hard? Who is exploiting whose incredible abilities? Who is creating obstacles?
Kudos to the actor for providing the one moment in the movie that engaged me--the one moment it felt like some kind of storytelling was happening.
Remember, kids, the rich are the most capable, smartest and innovativest people in the world, and to regulate them is to hinder their ability to produce good stuff for the rest of us, so get out of their way, 'cause if we tax them less and repeal all the business laws, they'll be able to work even harder and make more jobs for us!
All right, is there anything good I can say about this series? Anything at all? I suppose I have to admire the tenacity of the producers to make the trilogy in spite of all the "opposition." I can appreciate the attitude of "it's gotta be made, regardless if there is demand for it," but even that is tempered with "if it's gotta be made, make it right!"
I think the whole idea of making movies was misguided. This should have been a TV series. It would have given the characters more time to develop, more time to show the themes, more time to establish what's going on, how these people relate to one another, and what it means. Surely someone on a Rupert Murdoch-owned network would have aired it. Maybe as a Fox News original series? If the Weather Channel can have original programming, why not?
Skip the movies. They fail to tell the story. They fail to get across the ideology Rand intended. They fail in every possible way. They aren't even fun to watch as bad movies! The MST3K crew would have been at a loss for how to save them! I encourage everyone to read the book so they can find out how the upper class sees the rest of us. And then vote everyone who thinks like this out of office.
Nitpicky production notes:
There is a distinct lack of people actually doing work in this movie. Who is mining that copper? Who is drilling for oil? The book also has a curious absence of workers.
The movie also slips in the conservative point of view for who is to blame for the 2008 mortgage crash and resulting financial crisis: government regulation that forced banks to give loans to people who could never pay them back. Sorry, filmmakers, you don't get to blame the poor for this one.
How absurd to see Dagny in a formal evening dress standing on a platform giving orders to these blue-collar, dirty, bearded railroad workers. So the switches are out in the tunnel, and nobody but her can figure out how to get the trains out? She doesn't even tell them what her solution is, or how to execute it. She just tells them to get lanterns and paint them green and red. After she tells them to gather some materials, she then retires to have sex with Galt, leaving the employees to do the work! Yeah, Dagny, you work so hard you must deserve your position.
Dagny spent the first two movies sleeping with and declaring her love for Hank Rearden. Now all of a sudden John Galt is her love interest and she declares her eternal love for him?? In the book, Hank is present for the rescue of John Galt. Why isn't he in the third movie?
And Dagny's bracelet is made of Rearden metal. For the third movie in a row, it isn't blue! Why?! Rearden Metal is blue. This fact is so basic getting it wrong is inexcusable!!!!
I'm finally done with the Atlas Shrugged movies! Let's celebrate with some Rocky & Bullwinkle!