Atlas Shrugged (Section 2, Chapter 7)

By Ayn Rand

Cover: Atlas ShruggedWell, “The Moratorium on Brains” has ended up being very disappointing. Not a zombie in sight, though plenty of dead people actually, in the end. This chapter started off boring and finished off depressing.

The first few pages are Eddie Willers talking to his stranger in the lunchroom and promptly telling him where Dagny is hiding out, even though she’d strictly sworn him to secrecy.

Then we jump over to Hank Rearden walking home from his mills, where he is waylaid by Ragnar Danneskjöld, the pirate himself, in his first in-person appearance. Of course, Ragnar, instead of doing something cool and pirate-y, promptly settles into a lengthy philosophical lecture, explaining that he is the anti-Robin Hood, stealing from those who steal from the wealthy and returning the money to the wealthy.

Ragnar gives Hank a brick of gold, telling him that it is just one of the many he has stored away for him, which brings up a bit of a pet peeve of mine. There has been a lot of talk lately about national currency vs. the gold standard, and I get a little confused over it because in the end they are both just symbols of worth, right? Neither is actually inherently valuable, and both must be backed by the faith that society has subscribed an agreed-on value to them.

So, that sounds like just a philosophical point, but the practical point is that in a world where the civilization has collapsed to such a level that currency is no longer valid, is gold really that much more valuable? We only value gold as a metal because we decided it was pretty, relatively rare and possibly because it isn’t actually that useful for practical purpose so it is a good demonstration of the luxury of wealth. In order to even use gold as a currency, the users must trust that eventually the collapsed society will recover enough to find use for luxury.

Anyway, off my vague and uninformed economic soapbox, Hank is conflicted, but has also shown himself, again and again, to be a sucker for a pretty face (Ragnar’s face is described as “angelic”). He does not confront Ragnar over sinking his copper shipment (which is a glaring exception to Ragnar’s claim that he never stole from the industrialists themselves) and ultimately does not turn him over to the police.

The chapter ends with a cautionary tale described in very great detail. A mid-level politician is taking a Taggert train across the country to a political rally. He has been pressured to be sure to be at the rally, so he in turn pressures the conductor and engineer to make the trip as fast as they can. Because there is no one competent running the trains anymore, though, of course the train goes off the tracks. No one is hurt, but the engine itself is damaged past repair. The only available replacement engine runs on coal, which isn’t safe to travel through the tunnel just ahead on the track.

We get the blow-by-blow account of everyone on every step of the hierarchy pushing responsibility off onto the next person until a newly hired teenager is backed against the wall and makes the order to drive the coal-burning engine through the tunnel, asphyxiating everyone on the train. Don’t worry, though, because we also get brief descriptions of all the people on the train and how they either supported the current state of things or looked the other way, so it is pretty much their just reward.


3 comments on “Atlas Shrugged (Section 2, Chapter 7)

  1. Rebecca says:

    Ah Ragnar of the angelic face. Despite being a pirate on the high seas his morals apparently protect him from all the effects of being out at sea for significant periods of time or performing any kind of outdoor labor. Either that or he’s a liar (like Francisco’s drinking binges) and he’s actually just the bookkeeper he’s described as sounding like.

    Also, the fact that Ragnar talks to Rearden about the money being Rearden’s, but Ragnar will only give it to him (Rearden) when he (Ragnar) is sure that he (Rearden) will only use the money in the way that he (Ragnar) wants, makes me deeply dubious about how much Ragnar actually cares about freedom. It’s your money but you have to use it in a way that supports my moral claims? Isn’t that what the rest of society has been telling Rearden? The only difference is which moral system is being used, but it’s not Rearden’s own moral system.

  2. Ben says:

    Picking a largely irrelevant nit about the value of gold. In addition to any socially-conventional value, gold as a substance has a bunch of really attractive metallurgical properties that are intrinsically valuable (to people who need that sort of thing). It doesn’t tarnish or corrode; it conducts heat and electricity better than pretty much anything; and it can be hammered thinner than any other metal without breaking up. But your basic point still holds.

    • Anna says:

      Nice! I was trying to remember whether gold had any technical use (without doing any research at all, of course), and thought it was probably too soft, but there you go – it actually would be a useful metal with which to try to rebuild a fallen ‘grid,’ I guess.

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