Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged has finally made the journey from the bookshelf to the silver screen. Coming 54 years after publication date, Atlas Shrugged the movie would seem, particularly given the author’s history of employment by RKO and Universal studios, strangely late. A similarly delayed cinematic appearance of James Gould Cozzens’ By Love Possessed, Kay Thompson’s Eloise in Paris, Max Shulman’s Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, or any other title from 1957’s nonfiction bestseller list would seem a non sequitur. But Atlas Shrugged, alone, reads more 2011 than 1957.
Not only has the first installment of Atlas Shrugged hit when millions of Americans scurry to prepare their taxes, but it does so in the wake of bailouts and partial state takeovers of industries. Atlas Shrugged the movie is not five decades late. It is, despite its modest weekend performance, perfectly timed.
Atlas Shrugged is a book about a strike by the creators, inventors, entrepreneurs, and other drivers of the economy. Society’s producers mysteriously drop out of society. That theme alone is worth the cash-register’s admission price.
The high-tax, closed-shop states of the Northeast and Rust Belt have been losing population relative to the rest of the country for decades. Like the Looters and Moochers of Atlas Shrugged, the ruling class in these states remains obtusely perplexed at their waning economic and political clout. Last December’s congressional reapportionment subtracted eleven seats from states in the Northeast and Midwest, and, save for Katrina-ravaged Louisiana, none anywhere else. The twelve states gaining seats are located either West of the Mississippi or South of the Mason-Dixon line. More striking than the geographic concentration is the common political attributes of the states gaining seats and of the states losing seats. All the states losing seats in Congress impose an income tax and, save Louisiana and Iowa, enforce a closed shop. The new seats will go overwhelmingly to right-to-work states without an income tax.
When the last Northeasterner won the presidency in 1960, his region’s formidable political power included 133 electoral votes. Next year, the northeast (New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) will send just 96 electors to the Electoral College. “Where did all the people go?” is a less important question than “Why did all the people go?” Jobs, and the people, dropped out for many of the same reasons they did in Atlas Shrugged. They may not have gone to Galt’s Gulch, but they undertook an exodus nonetheless.
“Profit” is a dirty word in Atlas Shrugged. When asked why she has decided to build the John Galt Line, railroad executrix Dagny Taggart bluntly explains that she did so to make a profit. A horrified onlooker interjects, “Oh, Miss Taggart, don’t say that!” Taggart’s interaction with failed banker Eugene Lawson provokes a similarly perverse outburst. “I am perfectly innocent, since I lost my money, since I lost all of my own money for a good cause,” a defensive Lawson informs Taggart. “My motives were pure. I wanted nothing for myself. I’ve never sought anything for myself. Miss Taggart, I can proudly say that in all of my life I have never made a profit!”
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