Today, when the word “forefront” is used in conversation, its companion is very likely to be a variation on the word “economy.” And in many circles, the idea of unmoderated capitalism has become an associated whipping boy.
In the midst of the fray, proponents of both perspectives and political-economic leanings have turned to literature as a battlefield, a rallying cry, or a pointed, “I told you so.”
At the forefront of this economic stichomythia is 1930s-50s author and philosopher Ayn Rand, “the novelist who is to blame,” according to a headline in the Business Standard in India. A symbol of extreme capitalism, Rand’s works are rife with characters like John Galt, of Atlas Shrugged, who preach Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, laissez-faire, and self-interest.
True, literature has great influence, but how does the Business Standard journalist take the connection to such a dramatic conclusion? Here’s a synopsis, from the article:
Alan Greenspan, who, first as chairman of the Council of Economic Affairs and later as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of the US, was at the center of economic decision making for two decades right up to 2006 was a great admirer of Ayn Rand and a true believer in the philosophy she espoused in Atlas Shrugged. […] When Greenspan took his oath of office at the White House for his first public policy job as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, he had Ayn Rand standing beside him.
(Also see Kansas City Star, Alan, like Atlas, shrugged)
Others, defending the free market (see Grand Junction Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News), argue that the US, not purely capitalistic, cannot name current economic conditions as the inevitable result of Rand’s vision. They take a dark view of a future that promises more government involvement. Neither is the Ayn Rand Institute silent on current affairs.
Still others find camaraderie in the pages of Atlas Shrugged. On this editorial page from the southwest Florida News-Press, the third letter down points readers to a re-creation of “Galt’s Gulch,” the capitalist sanctuary established in Atlas.
A recent poll released by Zogby International informs politicians that 8.1% of Americans have read Atlas Shrugged. What does it mean? and why does it matter? Perhaps the only point is that, as a classic, Atlas remains potent; but perhaps, on a broader scale, literature dealing with the history and philosophy of the American economic system is back in vogue.
Is it any wonder that a film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged currently swirls around Hollywood?
In one sense, then, it does not matter if Rand’s writings are an example of a misguided system that has wreaked havoc in global markets or a manifesto detailing the consequences of excessive government intervention.
For whether Atlas shrugs or stoops again to the yoke, Rand’s revived prevalence in public discourse undeniably reminds us that strict boundaries between literature and society are like the “impenetrable” gateway to Galt’s Gulch – ultimately, an illusion.