Atlas Shrugged Chapter 7: The Exploiters and the Exploited

What a whiny chapter. More after the summary.

Chapter summary: It’s Dagny and Hank against the world. Dagny oversees the construction of the rail line. There’s a bridge that needs to be remade; her engineer tells her to just fix it for now and replace it later because it would too expensive to replace now, but Hank convinces her it would only be a little more to replace than to repair. A government agency on science is passive-aggressively non-committal about the wonder of Rearden Metal, and as a result Taggert Transcontinental stock tanks and half the contractors run for the hills. Dagny tries to convince the head of the agency to rescind the report, but he gets cynical about d’Aconia and the pirate with the silly name and some mysterious third person (John Galt or someone else? Time and Rand will probably tell). Dagny tells Jim in a near Deus ex Machina conversation that she’ll just build Rio Norte by herself, under a separate company name, then sell it back to Taggert Transcontinental once it’s successful. Hank agrees to climb into the noose with her, but Frisco takes a pass. I believe we get through an entire (long!) chapter without mentioning Richard Halley, but maybe I just forgot about it. Meanwhile, Congress passes the law against a single interest owning companies in multiple industries, and Hank and his secretary try not to cry.

As in baseball, there’s no crying in business.

In a world where heroes are expected to succeed despite any and all difficulties, Rand dwells an awful lot (including in the reverse-o-matic chapter title) on how terrible Dagny and Hank have it.

A cynical reality of human existence is that people with power will invariably use that power in a way that advantages some people and disadvantages others, and the people who are disadvantaged will typically feel exploited. In the era of so-called robber barons and wanton industrialism that preceded the Great Depression, the people in power were corporate heads, and the people they exploited were the common workers. The ostensible shift from the post-war into the 1960s (i.e., the era during which Atlas Shrugged was written) was from that to the government wielding its power to empower the poor and underclasses, to the disadvantage of the rich.

Both strategies, when taken to their extremes, are ultimately more damaging than helpful. The trick is building an economically and psychologically healthy society is to find a middle ground, where everyone has at least a feasible chance to succeed but the people who have managed to succeed get to enjoy that success (so that there’s an actual impetus to succeed).

But oh boo hoo hoo, someone who can gather several million dollars with a few phone calls and someone who can sign off on a million dollars while hardly batting an eye are being oppressed and exploited!

In other words, Dagny and Hank need to get over themselves.

Elsewhere: Frisco’s “I know but I’m not saying” smarminess is beginning to shift from being annoying to being… er… sublimely annoying. I hope he soon enough becomes sublime without the annoying bit, simply from the effect of white noise. After all, it’s still quite a while until John Galt comes around, and I don’t see d’Aconia spilling the beans any time soon.

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