Maria C. McRaven, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
At James Taggart’s and Cherryl’s wedding, Francisco d’Anconia speaks of the meaning of money. Do the events of the novel illustrate his thesis about money? What is the heroes’ attitude toward money—and why? The villains’? The general public’s?
The heroes of Atlas Shrugged believe that money is the root of all good. The villains believe money is the root of all evil. What a person deems good or evil depends on what he values, on what he seeks to accomplish. The villains of Atlas Shrugged attempt to build a society without money. Their efforts result in society’s destruction. The events of Atlas Shrugged illustrate that this difference of opinion regarding the virtue of money does not result from a misunderstanding of its nature, but from a difference in the two opposing sides’ ultimate objectives.
“Unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction.” The destruction Francisco d’Anconia predicts is precisely what happens. Men will not and cannot produce wealth unless their production is rewarded. When the villains of the novel distribute wealth according to need or pull rather than production, production ceases to occur. Consumption exceeds production. Wealth runs out. The workers of the Twentieth Century Motor Company will not exercise ability when the consequence is overtime without pay. Eugene Lawson of the Community National Bank cannot continue granting loans on the basis of need without possibility of repayment. The bank runs out of money. Factories reallocated by the Equalization of Opportunity Bill lose the ability to produce in the absence of the men who made them. Ellis Wyatt and the rest of Colorado’s industrialists will not work under the conditions imposed by the Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources, conditions that would result in the slow destruction of the business that tried to observe them. They close their factories and vanish.
The villains thought men could be forced to produce, but the implementation of force only hastens the rate of destruction. Directive 10-289 prevents businesses from adjusting expenses according to changes in income. When expenses exceed income, businesses run out of money with which to purchase the raw materials necessary to manufacture goods. Soon, there are no raw materials available for purchase. The nation’s copper industries were among the first to go. Hank Rearden cannot produce Rearden Metal without copper. Dagny Taggart cannot run a railroad without metal for tracks, cars, engines, and electrical wire. The farmers of Minnesota cannot bring their grain to the homes of the nation without transportation, and the people of the nation cannot live when they have no food.
The little wealth that remains from the days when production was still possible is rapidly snatched and devoured by the looters still in power. After the collapse of the Taggart Tunnel, Taggart Transcontinental acquires use of the Atlantic Southern’s track while taking a share of the rival line’s income under the Railroad Unification Plan. At the same time, Cuffy Meigs, the government representative in charge of the plan, is stealing equipment from the railroads under his supervision and selling it on the black market for his own personal profit. Soon there will be no track or equipment left to run any railroad, nor any goods for Meigs to purchase with his ill-gotten money. This process of slow destruction is catalyzed, however, when Meigs seizes control of Project X, a government-operated weapon of mass destruction, and half-wittedly destroys everything within a 300-mile radius of the site, including the only remaining bridge across the Mississippi River. The looter government has finally succeeded in accomplishing its own destruction.
The villains consider money the root of all evil, though their policies demonstrate in countless instances that money is the only means by which humans can exist. The looters hate money because it will not help them to evade the laws of reality; it will not allow them to consume more than they have produced. They persist in implementing policies that destroy the possibility for production and money because they do not wish to exist under the principles reality demands in order for man to exist. The only alternative to living according to the laws of reality is destruction. The villains hate money because it will not make reality what they want it to be instead of what it is. They hate money for keeping them alive in a reality they hate. Destruction is their semi-conscious wish, which is why they do not return to money when the events of the novel repeatedly demonstrate that production and money are the only means by which man may remain alive. They are men who do not want to live.
The heroes of the novel are the men who believe that money is the root of all good, the men of the mind. They love money because they love existence. They know that production is the only means by which existence can be accomplished, that trade is the only means by which men may enjoy the fruits of the production of other men, that money is the tool of exchange that accomplishes and represents these principles. They are the men who are willing to live according to the laws of reality, who accept responsibility for the accomplishment of their own existence. They are the men who have always made life on Earth possible.
The general public has no established opinion on the nature of money. They are men who do not think, who do not believe themselves capable of thinking. In surrendering the faculty of thought, they have given up the faculty of achieving their own survival. They wait for others to tell them what to do, for others to carry them through existence. When the producers stop carrying these men through life, the looters carry them along to destruction.
Reality does not demand that man value his life or the money that makes his life possible, but reality does demand that man value these things if he wishes to remain living. Man may live as a thinking, volitional being under the sign of the dollar or rot in an unmarked grave. These are his only options. The man who wishes to live will produce, will understand and value money. There are no other ways of living on Earth, only ways of dying.