“The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time. If you worked as a blacksmith in the mystics’ Middle Ages, the whole of your earning capacity would consist of an iron bar produced by your hands in days and days of effort. How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for Hank Rearden? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay check was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from Hank Rearden.”
– John Galt’s speech, “Atlas Shrugged”
Ayn Rand was obviously a brilliant thinker. The fact that she used and worshipped reason puts her far above the average human being, especially in the U.S. these days. But she had a severe weakness. She had a terrible scar from her childhood growing up in an authoritarian society. Authoritarianism is the most damaging weapon against an intellectual, which is why intellectuals are commonly atheists or, like Rand herself, passionately anti-religion. And so, while she meticulously pieced together a relatively strong philosophy she called Objectivism, she allowed herself to be blinded by that trauma into always arguing from the extremes.
Rand saw nothing in between good and evil. Whereas evil, by definition, requires bad intent, she defines anything that is not good – that is, does not support your natural goal of life and happiness – as evil. Misjudgment, then, is evil. Mistakes are evil. She, and all free marketers, argued from an idealized fantasy world where, if you don’t like your job, you go get another. If there are no other jobs, tough luck. You should have been smart enough to build a factory.
But if workers get together and decide they won’t work for the wages offered, and get voluntary support from others to tide them over until the factory owner must either raise wages or close down, and the factory owner finally signs an agreement with the workers to pay a set wage, and the government steps in to enforce that contract – the only role of government according to Rand; enforcing contracts – THAT is wrong. Actually, in Rand’s eyes, it is “evil.”
While Galt demonstrates that the blacksmith working in a factory produces tons more product than he could produce on his own, Rand consistently refused to see that the same is true for the factory builder. The factory builder – IF he knew how to work iron in the first place, which today is rare – could not produce any more product than the blacksmith on his own. It is only working TOGETHER that the production is exponentially increased. Should the factory builder be rewarded more than the laborer? He had the vision to make the factory a reality. That’s a major contributions to society.
But, per Rand’s own philosophy, no individual owes him anything for that “contribution.” In fact, he “contributed” nothing. He built the factory for his own self interest, not to better the lot of his fellow citizens. To have done so would have been to commit the sin of altruism. A sin which, according to Galt, has already been committed. Rearden apparently paid the blacksmith more than he was worth, and thus had given him a “gift.” Immoral bastard. If those laborers are only worth a $5 bar of iron per day by their own muscles, that is all they should ever be paid, again lest you commit the most heinous sin of altruism.
But if the laborer’s value is always set at only what he can make with his own hands, it is irrational to think that the value of the factory builder’s contribution is limitless. It is also irrational to think that the blacksmith is going to accept the same rate of compensation as when he was solo. He is producing more, he should receive mor, he will think. If he received $5 per bar of iron on his own, why shouldn’t he receive $5 per bar now that he is producing 10x as many as before? That was the value to customers of that bar then, and that has not changed. His higher paycheck a gift?? Let Hank Rearden make his own damn iron bars, then.
The majority of middle class people in the US are pretty much happy with their standard of living. Are people begging these entrepreneurs to increase productivity? To provide new products? To improve the standard of living? No. The industrialists pretty much follow Rand’s philosophy and only do it for their own self interest. So don’t expect any gratitude, let alone hero worship. Just give me a cheeseburger and a cheap gallon of gas, and kiss my ass, Rearden. Oh. And by the way. We ain’t coming in to work anymore unless we get that 10% increase.