The alternative to Atlas Shrugged

PXL_20230422_140540760~3I exepct most of my readers are eagerly awaiting some alternative to accepting the conclusions of AS, so I thought I'd provide mine.

Re-reading my review of AS I find myself again struck by "The image the book conjures up - of a fading darkening America crumbling under the weight of an unproductive, uncomprehending and eventually almost unwittingly hostile bureaucracy or parasitic class...". That AR felt like that more than half a century ago reminds me not to believe in the Age of Gold but also perhaps to ponder if, as I partially do, think some of her fears were correct, what went right? Because clearly despite problems, America has not crumbled. But note that the twin industrial foci of her book - steel, and railways - have strongly diminished in importance as a proportion of the economy.

And so my1 thesis is that what saves us is innovation escaping the control of the government; or perhaps of any large bureaucracy. Old things grow schlerotic, but the overall economy survives that. And thus her solution - all the innovative people disappearing off West to rebuild - isn't necessary, and is instead translated into the innovative people leaving, or rather not joining, but not physically.


1. My brilliant thesis is of course not original but right now I can't find someone else saying the same thing.

2. My pic shows the Queens' crew of 1963, which post-dates the publication of AS, but pre-dates my birth by a year. It may not resonate with you, but in this era when any Cambridge college getting to the Friday is considered a major achievement, actually winning is from a different age of the world. Although that's only the Thames; go back another half century and they would be winning the Grand.


* Following on from the comments, SA's A THRIVE/SURVIVE THEORY OF THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM seems relevant. I quite like the underlying concept, but have reservations about the conclusions. Or perhaps you prefer Liberals Read, Conservatives Watch TV?


Tom said...

Rand ignored the potential of agency for the opponents of her heroes. Bureaucracy often sucks. But it occasionally does the right thing, bettering the lives of those it serves (or controls, if you buy into Rand). This buys it time, as other factors such as the innovation you rightly highlight, often serve to improve our lot sufficiently to keep us from the ramparts.

If you cruise YouTube you can find lots of interesting videos by Peter Zeihan, a polymath with an impressive knowledge of factors influencing geopolitics. He confidently predicts the fall of pretty much everybody based on demographics and logistical constraints. But he makes the same mistake--he gives no thought to the possibility that the governments he has as doomed can do something to avoid their fate.

William M. Connolley said...

I've not heard of Peter Zeihan; but judging by that and this review he's saying... the usual kind of things (though if he really predicted Germany and Japan becoming aggressive he was wrong; getting Russia and Turkey right is less impressive; predicting G/J *and being right* would have been very impressive). By "usual" I mean he isn't discussing the kind of sclerotisation that I would use to predict the downfall of the West, was I minded to do so (I'm not, FWIW; though that and generic population-level complacency are definitely a threat).

Since it comes up, Timmy's Incentives, Eh? is to the point as a minor example: politician identifies genuine problem (and gets no points for that, since it is a general talking point) and proposes precisely the wrong solution, being unable to see the causes of the actual problem due to predisposition.

Brian said...

There's been a lot of deregulation in the US in the last 50 years - that's a policy choice (railroads are an example, maybe not the best one though). Democracy kind of works, at least compared to the alternatives. Technology played a role in making deregulation more feasible but the system still had to develop the political will to make a policy change.

William M. Connolley said...

> There's been a lot of deregulation in the US in the last 50 years...

Really? "Total Pages Published in the Code of Federal Regulations" says otherwise.

Do you mean, you can think of a few areas that have been deregulated, even though the total volume of regulation has unquestionably increased? Or do you really think there is overall deregulation?


Let us know if you find a frame-by-frame coronation stoat count .

Video coverage suggests former ferrets in ceremonial robes may have outnumbered live guests at the abbey.

Gator said...

AS is a fantasy because we all know success has little to do with brilliance. It's all about money and resources. Government and bureaucracy helps general success by preventing monopoly, spreading resources around, helping to set an even playing field so people with good ideas have a chance, and providing a stable background. I've spent my career working in "high tech" and honestly lack of regulation has hurt more than over-regulation. Lack of regulation makes money (and insurance!) afraid to back your new, bright idea.

And personally, I am happy to accept some societal friction as a fair trade for having a chance at cleaner air, water and food. Etc.

William M. Connolley said...

> It's all about money and resources

I disagree. That's more the excuse people make for not "succeeding", whatever that means. So I think it is not just wrong, it's also a bad thing to tell people; it encourages and excuses failure.

> Government and bureaucracy helps general success by preventing monopoly

Govt of course *is* a monopoly, and historically monopolies came from govts granting them. In more recent times govts tend to lie about what is a monopoly (Google isn't; the NHS is; state schooling effectively is) so I'm not confident you are correct.