Atlas Shrugged’s Timeless Moral: Profit-Making Is Virtue, Not Vice
ALL
In Pursuit of Wealth: The Moral Case for Finance
by Yaron Brook | September 30, 2017
Inequality Doesn't Matter If We’re All Paid According to the Value We Create
by Don Watikins | October 18, 2016
Who Cares about Inequality?
by Don Watikins | April 28, 2016
Equal Is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality
by Don Watkins | April 19, 2016
Economic Inequality Complaints Are Just A Cover For Anti-Rich Prejudice
by Don Watikins | April 14, 2016
Equality of Opportunity Doesn’t Exist in America — and That’s a Good Thing
by Don Watikins | April 06, 2016
Inherit The Wind . . . And Not Much Else
by Don Watikins | April 05, 2016
Equal is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality
by Don Watkins | October 20, 2015
Religion in America
by The Editors | December 05, 2014
Religion vs. Freedom
by Onkar Ghate | December 03, 2014
Debate: “Inequality: Should We Care?”
by Yaron Brook | May 08, 2014
Economic Inequality: Who Cares?
by The Editors | March 25, 2014
Our Poverty Problem?
by Don Watkins | March 11, 2014
Is Inequality Fair?
by Yaron Brook | March 05, 2014
Government tries to do too much: Opposing view
by Don Watkins | January 26, 2014
“You didn’t build that,” conservative style
by Steve Simpson | December 09, 2013
Why Do 1.4 Million Americans Work At Walmart, With Many More Trying To?
by Doug Altner | November 27, 2013
Atlas Shrugged Is A Book About Pride In One’s Work, And The Success That Results
by Steve Simpson | November 08, 2013
Bernie Madoff, Steve Jobs, and Wall Street Greed
by Don Watkins | September 26, 2013
Justice Department should let US Airways & American Airlines merger proceed
by Tom Bowden | August 16, 2013
What Are The Search Results When You Google ‘Antitrust’?
by Tom Bowden | April 18, 2013
To Be Born Poor Doesn’t Mean You’ll Always Be Poor
by Yaron Brook | April 12, 2013
We Should Be Embarrassed by the Sequester Debate
by Yaron Brook | March 20, 2013
“Give Back” Is One of the World's Most Impoverishing Commands
by Yaron Brook | March 12, 2013
Capitalism in No Way Created Poverty, It Inherited It
by Yaron Brook | February 25, 2013
3 crucial lessons Ayn Rand can teach us today
by Yaron Brook | February 02, 2013
Capitalism without Guilt
by Yaron Brook | January 21, 2013
President Obama Duels With Ayn Rand Over What Makes America Great
by Don Watkins | October 29, 2012
Why Ayn Rand’s Absence From Last Thursday’s Debate Benefits Big Government
by Yaron Brook | October 15, 2012
The Virtue of Employee Layoffs
by Yaron Brook | September 06, 2012
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Paean to American Liberty
by Don Watkins | August 17, 2012
President Obama vs. My Grandfather
by Don Watkins | July 30, 2012
The Dog-Eat-Dog Welfare State Is Lose-Lose
by Don Watkins | July 12, 2012
Changing the Debate: How to Move from an Entitlement State to a Free Market
by Don Watkins | July 02, 2012
Private Equity Firms Want Acquisitions To Profit, Not Fold
by Doug Altner | June 05, 2012
Opposing view: Celebrate private equity
by Don Watkins | May 29, 2012
The “On Your Own” Economy
by Don Watkins | March 09, 2012
What's Really Wrong with Entitlements
by Don Watkins | February 21, 2012
Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand — Why Are You Still So Misunderstood?
by Don Watkins | February 02, 2012
America Before The Entitlement State
by Don Watkins | November 18, 2011
How Did Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged Predict an America Spinning Out of Control?
by Onkar Ghate | October 31, 2011
What We Owe Steve Jobs
by Don Watkins | October 06, 2011
What’s Missing From The Budget Debate
by Don Watkins | July 12, 2011
Does America Need Ayn Rand or Jesus?
by Onkar Ghate | June 29, 2011
When It Comes to Wealth Creation, There Is No Pie
by Yaron Brook | June 14, 2011
It’s Time To Kill The “Robin Hood” Myth
by Yaron Brook | May 06, 2011
Using Ayn Rand's Values to Create Competitive Advantage in Business
by John Allison | April 04, 2011
In Defense of Finance
by Yaron Brook | February 15, 2011
The Tea Party Will Fail — Unless it Fully Embraces Individualism as a Moral Ideal
by Tom Bowden | January 21, 2011
How About Tax Reparations for the Rich?
by Don Watkins | January 18, 2011
The Guilt Pledge
by Don Watkins | September 22, 2010
How To Succeed In Business: Really Try
by Don Watkins | September 13, 2010
The U.S. Anti-Business Epidemic
by Don Watkins | August 17, 2010
Atlas Shrugged’s Timeless Moral: Profit-Making Is Virtue, Not Vice
by Yaron Brook | July 20, 2010
Capitalism: Who Needs It — Ayn Rand and the American System
by Yaron Brook | June 09, 2010
Apple vs. GM: Ayn Rand Knew the Difference. Do You?
by Don Watkins | March 02, 2010
Commercialism Only Adds to Joy of the Holidays
by Onkar Ghate | December 18, 2009
Why is Ayn Rand Still Relevant: Atlas Shrugged and Today’s World
by Yaron Brook | August 10, 2009
The Corrupt Critics of CEO Pay
by Yaron Brook | May 2009
America’s Unfree Market
by Yaron Brook | May 2009
Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market
by Alex Epstein | Summer 2009
Is Rand Relevant?
by Yaron Brook | March 14, 2009
Stop Blaming Capitalism for Government Failures
by Yaron Brook | November 13, 2008
From Flat World To Free World
by Yaron Brook | June 26, 2008
Vindicating Capitalism: The Real History of the Standard Oil Company
by Alex Epstein | Summer 2008
The Right Vision Of Health Care
by Yaron Brook | January 08, 2008
Deep-Six the Law of the Sea
by Tom Bowden | November 20, 2007
The Influence of Atlas Shrugged
by Yaron Brook | October 09, 2007
The Morality of Moneylending: A Short History
by Yaron Brook | Fall 2007
Say “No Way!” to “Say on Pay”
by Yaron Brook | May 22, 2007
Atlas Shrugged — America's Second Declaration of Independence
by Onkar Ghate | March 01, 2007
Pay Is Company’s Prerogative
by Yaron Brook | January 08, 2007
Religion and Morality
by Onkar Ghate | October 18, 2006
Net Neutrality vs. Internet Freedom
by Alex Epstein | August 16, 2006
Why Are CEOs Paid So Much?
by Elan Journo | May 11, 2006
To Outsource or to Stagnate?
by Onkar Ghate | August 01, 2004
Ayn Rand's Ideas — An Introduction
by Onkar Ghate | June 02, 2003
Capitalists vs. Crooks
by Elan Journo | July 22, 2002
Forgotten Heroes of 9/11
by Onkar Ghate | May 17, 2002
Religion vs. America
by Leonard Peikoff | 1986
The Sanction of the Victims
by Ayn Rand | November 21, 1981
Egalitarianism and Inflation
by Ayn Rand | 1974
The Moratorium on Brains
by Ayn Rand | November 14, 1971
What Is Capitalism?
by Ayn Rand | November 19, 1967
POV: What Is Capitalism?
by admin | November-December 1965
Is Atlas Shrugging?
by Ayn Rand | April 19, 1964
The Fascist New Frontier
by Ayn Rand | December 16, 1962
America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business
by Ayn Rand | December 17, 1961
The “New Intellectual”
by Ayn Rand | May 15, 1961
Capitalism vs. Communism
by Ayn Rand | 1961

MORE FROM THE BLOG:

Government And Business in Voice for Reason
Government & BusinessCapitalism

Atlas Shrugged’s Timeless Moral: Profit-Making Is Virtue, Not Vice

by Yaron Brook | July 20, 2010

In the years leading up to 2008 – 09’s financial meltdown, government control over mortgages, interest rates and America’s banking system was at an all-time high.

And yet when crisis struck, free enterprise took the blame.

The cure, therefore, was to give government even wider powers. Washington can now bail out any company, fire CEOs, override contracts and print billions of dollars to “stimulate” the economy — all in the name of the public interest. The result? Our deficits and debt continue to mount, and there’s a real possibility of a future like Greece’s.

This is the state of our world today. It’s remarkably similar to the state of the world in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a mystery story about a future America whose economy is disintegrating and whose government is accumulating power faster than anyone thought possible. This parallel is a big reason a record 500,000 people bought Atlas Shrugged last year.

So what can we learn from a book that foresaw in 1957 what few believed possible in 2007? We can learn a lesson the heroes of the novel learn: the cause of the government’s greater, destructive control of business. And we can learn how to oppose it.

Many of the heroes in Atlas Shrugged are the kind of men and women who built, and continue to build, America into the economic power that it is — inventors such as Edison, industrialists in the mold of Rockefeller and Carnegie, business visionaries reminiscent of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

In logic and justice, the heroes of Atlas Shrugged should be admired and appreciated for their efforts; instead, they’re demonized and shackled.

 

Man of Steel

Take the case of Hank Rearden, the leading industrialist in Atlas Shrugged and inventor of Rearden Metal, an alloy superior to steel. Rearden is denounced and forced to surrender his iron and coal businesses because the Equalization of Opportunity Bill demands he create business “opportunities” for struggling competitors.

His production of Rearden Metal is capped by the Preservation of Livelihood Law designed to keep other steel makers afloat. Key businesses can’t buy enough Rearden Metal because Rearden’s forced to give every customer an equal portion under the Fair Share Law.

Each new government scheme to control Rearden’s industry brings a new crisis, and each new crisis brings a new scheme.

The result is the accelerating collapse of Rearden’s business empire — and of all the other productive enterprises that depend on Rearden’s enormous productivity. The only beneficiaries of this orgy of government authority are power-lusting politicians and the pseudo-businessmen who lobby for and profiteer from these laws.

This scenario from Atlas Shrugged is an incredibly destructive one — and yet it is all too reminiscent of recent bailouts and power grabs in Washington.

Why? Why does government control over the economy only grow? Part of the answer in Atlas Shrugged is that those seeking power over business triumph because they claim, unchallenged, the moral upper hand.

Bankers and hedge funds today, like Rearden and the other industrialists in Atlas Shrugged, are denounced as selfish, greedy profit seekers.

And everyone knows that selfishness and profit seeking are evil, right?

Further, the justification of every new government scheme in our world, as in the world of Atlas Shrugged, is that it places “the public interest” above private profit.

When the government created Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, authorizing them to guarantee trillions of dollars in mortgages, what was the justification? It’s in “the public interest” to promote homeownership for countless Americans.

When the housing bubble collapsed, what was the justification for bailing out failing institutions? “The public interest” demands the preservation of illiquid and insolvent banks. The justification for bailing out GM? It’s in “the public interest” to keep GM workers employed.

And who, after all, dares question the morality of pursuing the public interest?

So when government controls inevitably create an economic crisis, there exists a ready-made explanation and scapegoat: The evil profit seekers must be responsible and so must be further reined in, and the good, public-spirited officials charged with reining them in must have had too little power, which must therefore be increased. Which means: more shackles for productive American businessmen and more power for government.

And so America moves, step by step, in the direction of the economic shambles of a banana republic or a Soviet Russia.

How to reverse course? Challenge these moral ideas.

“The public interest” is an immoral idea.

As Rand puts it elsewhere: “Since there is no such entity as ‘the public,’ since the public is merely a number of individuals, the idea that ‘the public interest’ supersedes private interests and rights can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others.”

This is precisely what we witness in Atlas Shrugged as Rearden’s business is torn apart in the name of the public interest: His money, property and life are sacrificed to anyone and everyone who can gain the title of “the public.” Rearden has no right to his money and metal, because he’s selfishly produced them; sundry other people have a right to both, because in their selflessness they have produced neither, which entitles them to be regarded as “the public.”

This is precisely what we see all around us today, as failing banks are bailed out by healthy banks and taxpayers (are they any less the public?), unprofitable GM is saved at the expense of profitable businesses and their employees (are they any less the public?), and homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages are bailed out by prudent people who didn’t even buy a house (are they any less the public?).

The lesson? Anytime anyone calls for economic policies to promote “the public interest,” he’s calling for evil — the sacrifice of individuals who’ve earned something to those who haven’t.

What’s the alternative to the tyranny of “the public interest”? Each individual’s pursuit of his private interests — in Jefferson’s words, the pursuit of happiness.

The result is a nonsacrificial society, in which government is stripped of the power to concoct schemes to promote “the public interest” and is solely focused on protecting each individual’s rights, including his property rights.

 

Doing What’s Right

But such a society, Atlas Shrugged shows us, can exist only if we regard making (and enjoying) a profit as an unmitigated, life-sustaining virtue. Rearden comes to realize this — and the importance of speaking up morally. He declares publicly what no Rockefeller, Carnegie or Gates would ever dare declare:

I work for nothing but my own profit — which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. . . . I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage — and I am proud of every penny that I have earned in this manner. . . . I refuse to apologize for my ability — I refuse to apologize for my success — I refuse to apologize for my money.

Rearden takes this moral stand because he’s realized, in the words of a friend, that:

If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose — because it contains all the others — the fact that they were the people who created the phrase “to make money.” . . . Men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity — to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words “to make money” hold the essence of human morality.

Unless we recapture this quintessentially American spirit, this independent, individualistic ethic — and discover the words fully to name it, to understand it, to defend it and to implement it — we’ve no right to expect the freedom and progress that earlier Americans achieved.

This is one of timeless themes of Atlas Shrugged.

About The Author

Yaron Brook

Chairman of the Board, Ayn Rand Institute