Atlas Shrugged, and I Read About It

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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195 Responses

  1. Tod Kelly says:

    I have little to say, other than to note that I read AS in college — un-assigned — because it came highly recommended as a dystopia sic-fi novel, and thought it terrible.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Yeah, my reception would have been entirely different if it were recommended as a dystopic sci-fi book.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        I probably read Ayn Rand (Fountainhead and AS) in 8th or 9th grade, unassigned.

        To me at that time, they were definitely powerful works – most of my (pleasure/unassigned) reading up till then consisted of fantasy/sci-fi/adventure, so these were definitely “adult” novels, in that they were more-or-less “real people/real world” (hold the jokes please), and there were obviously philosophical or political points being communicated (whereas in most books I’d read before, any such themes were much more subtle and subservient, or even incidental, to plot). The point of these books was very obviously to provoke thought, not merely to entertain.

        And for about a week or two, they occupied a lot of my mental real estate, which is about the length of time that it took to start really questioning the unbending, uncompromising harsh nature of the undergirding philosophy; and to decide that while there were definitely some interesting ideas there, taking it to extremes was not a good way to go.

        Or, as a friend once put it, when you first put the books down, you’re all like “Yeah, eff the poor!”; then you go, “wait a minute…that’s not right.”

        I think that speaks a bit to the books’ power at the right time to the right person, but not necessarily their overall worth, except as a “gateway drug” to certain types of ideas (and I use the term “gateway drug” with full awareness of the connotations, both positive and negative, of that particular metaphor).Report

      • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        I read it in the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I read it while running experiments in an animal lab, at one of the grad students’ desks, and I frequently threw it in the trash can next to the desk before deciding that I had to finish it, because my uncle had given bought me the book as a gift, so enthused by it was he. I am not sure I’ve forgiven my uncle to this day. I don’t think I enjoyed any of it, and was already sufficiently far away from it ideologically that it just really pissed me off.Report

      • I don’t think there is any way I would have finished the book if I’d been reading it rather than listening to it for hours on end while on the road. For mostly different reasons than Chris, though.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

        Or, as a friend once put it, when you first put the books down, you’re all like “Yeah, eff the poor!”; then you go, “wait a minute…that’s not right.”

        Nor, as Will points out, a particularly accurate summary of the book. The villains are collectively described as “moochers and looters,” and they span the entire economic spectrum, though the most (negative) attention is given to those at the top. Likewise the characters portrayed positively.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        @brandon-berg – He/I was making a general hyperbolic comedic comment about following some of the underlying ideas in her books to their extreme ends, not attempting to accurately summarize the books’ plots.

        If you don’t think that undercurrent is there (or can’t be pretty easily extrapolated from some of Rand’s more extreme bits), that’s cool.

        But as someone who calls himself ‘libertarianish’ when pressed to pick a descriptor, I think it’s kinda funny the way “true” libertarians often react defensively to any sort of joke or exaggeration or caricature of Ayn Rand or her books.

        Let’s face it…if I call myself a libertarian, I’m gonna get hit with an Ayn Rand joke once in a while. Ain’t no thang.Report

      • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        Hyperbole?! Now I can’t speakReport

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        If you can’t speak, that’s probably a bolus.

        (If *I* can’t speak, that’s probably a bonus).Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

        Sure, there’s a lot you can criticize Rand for—e.g., her theory of objective ethics was made up out of whole cloth (to be fair, so is every other theory of objective ethics), she wasn’t a great novelist, and her antipathy towards “libertarians” was just weird—but other than not being a particularly good novelist, those aren’t really the reasons she gets trashed nowadays. Instead, she gets trashed mostly based on gross misrepresentations of her work or for not being a leftist.

        I don’t really think that “Eff the poor!” is a particularly plausible message to draw from Rand’s work, which makes clear her respect for anyone earning an honest living, no matter how small. Really, the closest thing she ever said to “Eff the poor” is “Stop effing the rich.”

        I don’t mind jokes. It’s just that there are a lot of people who all to eager to accept “Eff the poor!” as a totally valid summary of Rand and/or libertarianism in general.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        It’s just that there are a lot of people who all to eager to accept “Eff the poor!” as a totally valid summary of Rand and/or libertarianism in general.

        In case it’s not clear, I don’t think it’s a valid summary of libertarianism in general (with Rand…I can kinda see how it could come across that way).

        And I get your frustration at seeing something continually misrepresented (really, my friend’s joke – and this would have been in the early 90’s, when he was reading Rand for the first time in college – is just an early iteration of “FYIGM”, right?)

        I mean, jeez, I read Dangerous Minds, that dude’s just unhinged on the subject of libertarianism.

        I was more trying to describe my own experience with her work – how Rand’s polemicism can be actually very effective, up to a certain point (and, her polemicism is somewhat understandable given her life experiences – kind of like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, come to think) – but when the heat of that polemic wears off, its more extreme bits (or, their implications) didn’t sit well with me.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

        Fair enough. I’m kind of curious as to what it is specifically that you’re talking about, but I’ve probably read it more recently than you, and if I don’t remember the details, I wouldn’t expect you to.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

        I think it’s important to keep in mind the times in which Rand was writing.

        Highly respected economists of the time were arguing that the government should and could exercise far-reaching directional control over the economy, setting prices and determining quantities–it was all just a computational issue, they thought; all the data existed and centralized calculation would be superior in efficiency to the market’s decentralizef calculations. Many economists thought Oskar Lange had satisfactorily demonstrated this as a theoretical possibility in his response to Mises’ critique of centralized calculation in the socialist economy. It shows up in literature, too–the last chapter of I, Robot is based on the idea.

        The times also saw countries nationalizing industries, and Galbraith talking about the need to limit private investment so we could have more public investment (in the things he saw as publicly beneficial, not just infrastructure).

        Set in that light, the conflict between the entrepreneuer who develops a superior product (Reardon Steel)–a very Schumpeterian hero–and the government that demands he give up control of it for the public benefit, is a very plausible story; the basis for a good prophetic yarn.

        I think that often gets lost. Because Rand was a dreadful writer, and her conception of human nobility as never making sacrifices for love–or perhaps never being so craven as to love at all–is distinctly inhuman. But it all gets wrapped up together so that people assume the whole thing is a POS through and through, when it’s not…quite. But that’s how people tend to view things that are so deeply flawed, so there’d be no point in blaming them. Rand is the one at fault, for burying a good point in a mountain of dreck.Report

      • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

        Seen as a strong reaction against her times she seems a bit more understandable. However too many of her fans don’t seem to notice times have changed, this isn’t the world she lived in and with her experiences. The pendulum has swung far back the other direction from what she was reacting against.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:


        Yes, fortunately even most liberals realized their centralized planning fantasies were deeply misguided. Most, not all.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

        Much of it is evergreen. The cronyism portrayed in AS is still an issue, and the government’s seizure of Rearden Metal strikes me as a good metaphor for the calls to regulate the profit out of the pharmaceutical industry. And government spending is a greater percentage of GDP than it was in the 50s.Report

      • j r in reply to Will Truman says:

        As a novel, Atlas Shrugged is not great. Although, it’s probably better than Twilight and lots of other crappy literature.

        However, as an understanding of how a series of well-meaning centrally planned interventions could send an economy into the crapper, the book is pretty damn accurate. And if you think that times have changed that much, take a trip down to Venezuela.Report

      • I will say this, in defense of what Glyph is talking about: I didn’t get the “eff the poor” impression solely from critics of Rand’s writing. Intended or not, that is what a lot of fans seemed to draw from it.Report

      • @j-r I partially agree. I thought it did that part pretty well. Though I thought the “well-meaning” was belied in the book itself. Half of the stuff they did turned out to have an ulterior motive. Some of the oddly moustache-twirling variety, but I remember more of it being basic position-jockeying and profiteering on the part of the “well-meaners”.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        It’s not so much that she ever states “eff the poor” in any explicit way – it’s more that idea that ANYTHING that might impede ultimate and total expression of our will (ideally in steel and concrete) – small-minded people, (as James says) love, etc., etc. is nothing more than an insignificant obstacle to be swept aside without a second thought.

        (There’s a reason this kind of thing might hit a lonely young person with artistic pretensions hard).

        I think it’s easy to extrapolate that idea to “the poor and the weak can take care of themselves – don’t let them drag *you* down with them.” As opposed to the heroes of other stories that are explicitly about protecting the poor and weak.

        It’s entirely possible she never intended this reading or implication (and, I believe the libertarians around here to be sincere when they say “adopting more libertarian policies is the best way to *help* the poor and weak”), but it sure seemed to be there.

        But again, I was pretty young, and I haven’t read it since then, so I am working off memory; and subsequent cultural discourse in the intervening years may be coloring my recollections.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        @will-truman – I think it’s important to note that the guy who said it had just finished the book, and had really found it thought-provoking and been swept up in it while reading, only to find that upon reflection afterwards he wasn’t totally comfortable with where it had left him (an experience basically like mine). He was in no way a critic of Rand. This was basically his first exposure, and he (like me) was expressing mixed feelings about what he saw as the implications.Report

  2. Saul DeGraw says:

    I tried to read this or the Fountainhead when I was 14, I found it utterly boring.Report

  3. Tod Kelly says:

    Semi-related side-note: A long, long time ago I considered trying to figure out a way to do a post that told the story of Ayn Rand’s life in the style of Animal Farm, because I truly believe it was a living mirror image of Orwell’s parable.

    I might have to revisit that idea after your next AS post.Report

  4. dragonfrog says:

    I think of this comic every single time someone mentions Atlas Shrugged.

    • Brandon Berg in reply to dragonfrog says:

      Evidence of actually having read the original makes for better satire.Report

    • Saul DeGraw in reply to dragonfrog says:

      I always think of the joke about how there are two books which can change a 14 year olds life forever. The other being Lord of the Rings. One will change a 14 year old into a horrible twisted monster filled with grandiose and dangerous fantasies, the other involves orcs.Report

    • j r in reply to dragonfrog says:

      That cartoon really is terrible satire and, as Brandon says, I am pretty sure that the person who wrote it never actually read Atlas Shrugged.

      Here is another example of very bad Ayn Rand bashing: This person apparently believes that Rand’s philosophy revolved around hating Jews, immigrants and women.

      The ironic thing is that bashing/mocking Ayn Rand is pretty easy if you bother to actually find out what she believes.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to dragonfrog says:

      There was actually a scene in Atlas Shrugged that involved Dagny cooking in Galt’s Gulch. I think she was cooking breakfast rather than lunch, though, so well played, Angry Flower. Well played.Report

      • If I recall, the scenes at Galt’s Gulch involved the sorts of basic issues (farming, cultivation, etc.) that Angry Flower mentions. I don’t remember all the specifics (we’re approaching a year – I should have written this post sooner) but I remember at least one case of “Out there he was a titan of industry, here he’s figuring out how to cultivate beats and couldn’t be happier” sort of thing.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        It’s a sign of good faith that the captain of industry does the cooking because she’s a woman?Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        To be honest I could understand that. The Titan Of Industry is a prisoner of market forces, of aggregate customer demands, of business processes, of the need for progress reports and design reviews and master plans. Out there hoeing the beets it’s simple: Here’s the dirt, here’s your hoe, get to diggin’. You know exactly how much you’ve done and exactly how much is left, and you don’t need anyone else to tell you when you’re finished.Report

      • It’s been a very long time since I read the book, but IIRC Galt’s Gulch quickly became an example of the “ease of self-sufficiency” fantasy that I often complain about. That is, writers (and others) tend to grossly underestimate just how big a social pyramid even relatively basic tech rests on. Consider the reality of the things needed for building and operating an iron foundry (and in reality one would greatly prefer steel, if not Rearden metal). Refractory materials. Machine tools for finishing, as casting is of very limited accuracy. Since they fairly quickly had an oil field, a whole lot of other production technics specific to that and refineries and…

        Writers haven’t improved a lot since Rand’s day. I regularly see pieces by people who are planning, in their head, a self-sufficient village for after the Collapse of Civilization (various causes for same, from Peak Oil, to rogue central bankers, to zombies). I have lost track of the number who remark that they will definitely need an electrician, to wire the solar panels and such, but make no mention of someone who can grow hemp, who can separate the fibers, who can spin thread, who can weave cloth, who can sew. And produce the tools necessary to do those things. If they’re thinking longer than a generation, all of the skills necessary to preserve the other skills.

        To Hanley’s point elsewhere about the times in which Rand wrote, the super-human engineer who could, apparently by sheer force of will, summon up massive machinery was one of the stock characters of the time. Mad Engineers on the one side, their counterparts on the other.Report

      • @michael-cain I agree, was thinking that as I was listening, and thought that was a weak spot of the book. I was wondering if my belief that they were being too restrictive in their community was a weakness on my part or whether it was this. I couldn’t quite articulate this as well as you did, so you’ve helped me settle with my gut on it.

        From a story and logistical standpoint, I think it would have worked better with a Colorado Independence Movement or somesuch, Colorado would be a bad site for it, though (Washington maybe?). The biggest problem, of course, is that the degree of overhead control required to secure an independent Colorado/Washington would have obviated the very thing that Rand was going for.

        Whether this uncompromising vision was detrimental just to the novel or is detrimental to her entire worldview, I’m not sure. But there were various points in the novel where story was sacrificed for her to make her point. (And I’m not just talking about the long lectures.)Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        make no mention of someone who can grow hemp, who can separate the fibers, who can spin thread, who can weave cloth, who can sew.

        Absolutely. Oddly enough, in my undergrad Marx and Marxism, taught by a real-for-sure Marxist (they’re actually surprisingly uncommon at our public universities), there was also a real-for-sure Marxist student, not a kid, but a guy in his 40s. The student liked to boast about making his own clothes, and the instructor was gung-ho enthusiastic about how this was an escape from the capitalist market trap. I couldn’t understand it, though, since his clothes looked pretty mass made. Turns out, what he meant by “making” his own clothes, was that he bought plain white t-shirts and painted/silk-screened his own designs on them.

        And so do Ayn Rand and Marxists come full circle and meet in glorious ignorance.Report

      • For purposes of a work of fiction, I think from time-to-time about the size of the population that would be required to support today’s level of technology (limiting factor in my mind is the billion-transistor integrated circuit, which requires an incredible array of technical capabilities). My guess is that the minimum is 30-50 million people for the pyramid that supports that tech. A smaller population could support a lower level of tech. A village could support… well, we have a whole history full of examples of the level of tech an isolated village can support. Assuming 30-50 million people, you can work backwards to estimate the resources (land, water, power) required.

        A magic Galt electric generator would reduce that somewhat, but not necessarily in the obvious ways. Looking at things from what we know today, a single Galt generator used to (among other things) operate an oil field is kind of silly, when you could use small generators for distributed power, including electric cars. But that wouldn’t fit Rand’s narrative particularly well.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        The real advantage to self-sufficiency is Felicity Kendal.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    I thought the imagery of the trains was very well done. I *LOVED* the scene with the trial of Hank Rearden.

    The book is mostly a noble failure, though. A sense of humor would have done wonders… but if Rand had a sense of humor, she’d be just another Libertarian.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

      @jaybird One of my favorite scenes was shortly prior to that, when it was being explained to Hank that the purpose of laws is not that they be followed but that they be broken (because then you have an obligation to the state). In a very roundabout way, it reminded me of my impression of conversations around here (government services incurring moral obligation to go along with the state).Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Will Truman says:

        I recall finding this suggestion highly problematic, and I still do.

        If (as Rand argues elsewhere ad nauseum) the government exists by enforcing its rules at gunpoint, then why would the government bother to create an obligation within an individual’s mind, when it can simply impose one from without by force?

        Even as a teenager, this seemed flat wrong to me. The government imposes and enforces laws because there is behavior the government does not want people to engage in. Thus, it punishes this disfavored, unacceptable behavior — murder, theft, speeding, vandalism. If you don’t do those things, you remain unpunished.

        Now, I’m older and more cynical and know that there are wrongful convictions. And I’m a bit more refined in the idea that I’d always had that moral obligations and legal obligations are self-evidently different things, the way lizards and tortoises are different things. But still, the idea that laws are created to indebt an individual to the state still feels very foreign to me.Report

      • I think it’s actually a pleasant (for the government) biproduct rather than the intent. I don’t think Three Felonies a Day was the goal, but I’m not convinced it hasn’t been used to good effect.Report

      • A more explicit (if not monumental) example would be certain forms of traffic enforcement. I know you’re kind of L&O on the subject, but there have been documented cases of speed limits that the traffic engineers want higher but the state cops want to keep lower. Also, the relationship between red light cameras and shortened yellow light durations.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Will Truman says:

        Except it’s not pleasant. When I’ve sat as a traffic judge, I found it not particularly enjoyable handing down big ol’ fines to people I know can at best only afford them with substantial inconvenience. I’d so much rather they’d have kept the cell phones off, buckled their seat belts, drove the speed limit, and came to full and complete stops. The state can readily find other ways to raise revenue than traffic fines — there’s no shortage of creativity regarding new and different ways to tax people in Sacramento.

        Nor is it particularly important as a course of funds to the government. Motor vehicle fines account for an average of 1.13% of total receipts to the County of Los Angeles, California, for instance; see page 23 of its budget under “Vehicle Code Fines.” (You won’t find this information in the California state budget; in California, fines are collected as revenue at the county level, and when you consider the amount of money in question compared to that generated by income, capital gains, property, and sales taxes, it’s easy to understand why the state doesn’t want to futz with this stuff.)

        It’s not just that I have fairly stern ideas about obeying traffic laws (although to that charge I plead guilty). The actual dollars involved strongly suggest that the government is neither looking to impose some sort of moral obligation on speeders for some indeterminate political reason, nor is it particularly looking to them to fund its operations. Now, it is looking to control their behavior: it wants them to not speed, stop at intersections, yield to emergency vehicles, have insurance, not talk on their cell phones, and wear seat belts.

        And if that’s true for traffic fines — that form of governmental revenue most attributed with having an ulterior purpose by those who would prefer not paying them — then how much more true is it for other kinds of laws?Report

      • LWA in reply to Will Truman says:

        “government services incurring moral obligation to go along with the state”

        Maybe this refers to my tribe’s argument that if you want the govt to provide property and contract rights protection, you need to accept the terms.

        Except its not really like the govt is forcing these on unwilling individuals- are there any persons who don’t want them? Or does there exist any conceivable scenario in which these are not delivered coercively by a monopoly power?

        Is there an argument to be made that these should be provided, but not in such a way as to incur reciprocal obligations?

        If the point is more about the Three Felonies A Day, I am actually a bit more sympathetic.Report

      • @lwa Of course if you use public roads you should be willing to pay the taxes in order to pay them. If you use public health care you should be willing to pay the taxes to pay for them. Where I find myself rolling my eyes tends to be when my use of public roads renders any objections I have on the basis of freedom for something other than paying the taxes for them. When my use of government-subsidized health care incurs an obligation on my part to stop smoking, or to drink from smaller cups, or not to consume transfats. (There are arguments against smoking and transfats, but I reject the argument about the fact that by being eligible for Medicaid, I am freeloading on the system if I don’t.) Or they incur a moral obligation for me not to assert any sort of independence in any factor of my life because, by virtue of what the government gave me, I essentially have no grounds to object to the state taking whatever it wants for whatever reason. The arguments are rarely laid out like such, but that remains the logical endpoint when using public roads or public education is like that small-type line on that credit card contract that says “You agree to the new terms when you pay next month’s bill, and you agreed to let us unilaterally change the terms when you signed up for the credit card in the first place.”

        What the back-and-forth in Atlas Shrugged made me think of was a notion that if we can provide enough services, we can generate limitless obligation as the services become enthrenched in our lives. A vindication, of sorts, of the notion that government-run health care is in fact an assault on our freedom. Or at least our claim to it.Report

      • @burt-likko I can’t say how it works in California, though in the places I have lived I suspect the profit that comes from tickets is not actually gained from the people who appeared before you on the bench in a trial. Those trials, after all, cost money. It’s people like me who just mail the check in. (I will concede, however, that far more than half of the tickets I have gotten over the years were earned. I honestly don’t object to those!)

        And if that’s true for traffic fines — that form of governmental revenue most attributed with having an ulterior purpose by those who would prefer not paying them — then how much more true is it for other kinds of laws?

        That’s a fair point. Each law is probably justified (to those who passed it, anyway) in its own right. More a matter of prosecutors being glad these laws are on the books when they have people they want to get and can’t get them for the things they actually want to get them for.Report

      • LWA in reply to Will Truman says:

        I don’t disagree entirely- the social contract can’t be a one sided affair, where one party has all the cards.
        But doesn’t that go both ways?
        If we take a page from the Sticky Words thread, and instead of using “government” use” Will Truman”- as in:

        “I want Will Truman to protect my property and contracts. I am willing to pay Will Truman for this service, but Will Truman is not allowed to ask for any other terms and conditions.”

        What this is, is a negotiation, a contract between us as individuals, and the corporate entity we call Government. I use the word “corporate” in the sense that it is a single entity, created out of millions of stakeholders.

        I think your point is well taken, that signing on to be a member doesn’t automatically waive any and all power. This is where we draw a circle around rights, while other things courts have said require a compelling interest and other things are just up to majority rule.

        Overall, a bit of nuance is called for, which places different grades of importance on different things.
        Which probably reflects back to Tod’s point about ideology, where a single magic theory can provide a clear directive for societal organization.Report

      • If Will Truman’s suggested terms of renegotiation are unacceptable, can you go to Jaybird or James Hanley to provide the same services? What are the barriers to doing so?

        The United States Government has a regional monopoly over some where north of three and a half million miles. With additional barriers to exit on top of that. The states have an average of 55k or so square miles (and fewer barriers). That changes the dynamics considerably.

        Does that mean that the government can’t renegotiate terms? Of course not. It does mean, though, that renegotiation should generally be justified on their own terms, and not on the terms of the existing relationship or vague obligations incurred up to that point on the existence of the relationship.

        I say “generally” because there are implied obligations. Education, for example. It’s certainly fair to say “Look, you were educated in public schools and the arrangement was intended to be that you would go on and contribute into society and pay taxes for future generations. It’s kind of crummy for you to start talking about how we should do away with public education.” But even then that only takes you so far as far as what those obligations are, says little about whether or not I think it was actually right that anyone other than my parents paid for my education, and says nothing about having any sort of moral obligation to support infrastructure projects to bring broadband to southern Gallatin County, Montana.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Will Truman says:

        Burt Likko writes: “If (as Rand argues elsewhere ad nauseum) the government exists by enforcing its rules at gunpoint, then why would the government bother to create an obligation within an individual’s mind, when it can simply impose one from without by force?”

        “When I’ve sat as a traffic judge, I found it not particularly enjoyable handing down big ol’ fines to people I know can at best only afford them with substantial inconvenience.”

        Welp. Looks like you’re very sorry about imposing an obligation from without by force, but that won’t stop you doing it. After all, laws exist for the safety of everyone. And believe me this hurts me too, so next time behave properly and we won’t have to punish *both* of us.Report

  6. Will Truman says:

    Re: F the Poor

    By far, the most surprising thing to me – perhaps the only really surprising thing – was the extent to which the villains were roughly as wealthy and individually powerful as the heroes. The poor were the hordes at the gate, but collectively a villain in the background. The bigger villains were corrupt businesspeople, unions, and the government they were propping up. The unions being there weren’t a surprise, obviously, but I wasn’t expecting corrupt and self-serving businesspeople to get much more than a passing mention, if any at all.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to Will Truman says:

      Remember that public choice theory was a hot new idea when “Atlas Shrugged” came out.Report

    • NobAkimoto in reply to Will Truman says:

      In some sense the way the poor are treated is more insidious than if they were the actual villains. They’re robbed of agency to the point where they’ve become a subaltern, an amorphous Other that is given a cursory treatment and is only portrayed by how others view them.

      Atlas Shrugged is about the powerful versus the powerful, with the weak relegated as a subaltern by virtue of their failing to be distinguished enough to give them a voice.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        There is definitely some truth to this. Sometimes it is better to be a villain than to be ignored or abjectly dismissed.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        That’s some pretty good prose Nob. And good content as well.Report

      • NobAkimoto in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        I feel like that’s what makes the story (and underlying philosophy) so morally monstrous. It renders so many people into inferior, faceless subalterns with no agency. Moreover, it revels in their lack of agency and shows they are at the mercy of supposed superiors, and perhaps most importantly deserve whatever happens to them. The sufficiently powerful have agency, they become characters and are either villains or heroes depending on what they’re driven by. It’s this complete and utter dismissal of the vast swath of humanity and the essential dismissal of their agency that makes Rand a monster.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        A story can only have so many characters (unless you’re writing Game of Thrones), and it seems to me the complaint here is really that Rand didn’t write about the potential characters that you care more about.Report

      • Murali in reply to NobAkimoto says:


        It’s not that Rand did not write about people we care about or are supposed to care about, it is the sense which I got from reading Atlas shrugged that the vast hordes of poor people deserved their fates (example dying in a train crash) because they

        1) Did not recognise the obvious truth of objectivism

        2) And thereby failed to take the necessary steps to protect themselves.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        A story can only have so many characters (unless you’re writing Game of Thrones), and it seems to me the complaint here is really that Rand didn’t write about the potential characters that you care more about.

        What Murali said, plus the fact that I’m examining more the underlying moral lesson being implied, and the lack of such perspectives speaks plenty to the author’s own viewpoint.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        It is notewothy, though, that while the underclass was under-represented, the one character (that I can recall) who came from there was a sympathetic (if tragic) one. We may have actually met more of the good ones than the bad ones, when it came to the non-rich. I can remember Cherryl, and I remember the guy who coined the phrase/question “Who is John Galt”, at least, but don’t remember meeting the ones who were bad.

        They were talked about, though, and quite a bit. Which does matter.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        the lack of such perspectives speaks plenty to the author’s own viewpoint.

        I think that’s nonsense. That could be said about any book, because all literary works exclude some groups. So you set up an impossible hurdle for an author. Or more likely, since I doubt you’d apply this consistently to all authors and the groups they don’t focus on in their books, you’re saying it’s wrong to write about the upper class unless you also include lower class characters as active agents in the book. And pardon my bluntness, but that’s just stupid.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        You left out the conditional: Given the underlying moral message of the story. You look at the lessons implied by the entire book, including the soliloquy and I think it sets a sufficient standard.

        I’m also not saying it’s wrong. I’m saying it shows the author’s attitude towards a certain segment of the population relative to the agents in the book.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        Not to put too fine a point on it, but your tortured misreading of what I’m saying makes me feel like you’re looking for a fight rather than a discussion. So consider me checked out of this thread.Report

      • Citizen in reply to NobAkimoto says:

        If the book is patterned on Rands past, then the poor would have been the socialist wave that that pushed the October revolution that “got what it deserved” under communist rule.

        I think before the revolution, she must have observed various artistic and creative business personalities that suffered with the change in society around her. Including her father whose business was confiscated. Galt as it has been written elsewhere is likely her father.

        I like the dark alley ahead that she hints of, a hard lesson from the return to Petrograd when her family nearly starved.Report

  7. greginak says:

    I think i was just out of college when i went to the bookstore with two books in mind. It was either AS or F by Rand which i’d heard good things about and Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald. As was my habit i read a few random pages from the middle of the book to see which hooked me. Never picked up a Rand book after that and Tender is the Night is a fantastic book, the equal of Gatsby i’d say. Maybe the Rand books are better then their critics say, but at this point i’ve heard enough from Randians that her philosophy doesn’t move me nor, in almost every case, do her adherents.Report

  8. Burt Likko says:

    My Book Report: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
    by Burt Likko, age 14.

    Exposition exposition, preachy dialogue, preachy dialogue, something happens.

    Exposition. Preachy dialogue, preachy dialogue, preachy sermon that lasts 20 pages. Then something happens.

    Exposition. Lengthy sermon (40 pages), momentary interruption by bad guy, preachy dialogue. Bad guy murmurs in intellectual confusion.

    Something happens. Preachy dialogue, preachy dialogue, abysmally bad sex scene. More preachy dialogue, leading in to 55-pag sermon.

    Preachy dialogue, sermon, exposition, sermon, something happens.

    The Big Sermon. Then nothing happens for a time, until it does. Preachy dialogue.

    Holy crap this is awful I can’t finish it.

    The End.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Doctors in developing countries have been known to use the works of Ayn Rand as a replacement for anesthesia.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to LeeEsq says:

        You don’t even need it in the surgery – just make sure that’s the only reading matter in the waiting room, and patients will be glad to head in for unanaesthetized surgery, because it feels so good to stop reading Rand.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Reading it, or hitting people ovee the head with it?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Mike, it depends if the patient is literate or not. You can’t really have some one read it out loud without violating the Convention Against Torture.

        Ooh, I just figured a new idea for what we can do to terrorists.Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:


        Doctors in developing countries have been known to use the works of Ayn Rand as a replacement for anesthesia.

        That was before my dissertation was invented.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Burt Likko says:

      On the one hand, The Night of January 16th, as a play, has the blessing of only lasting a few hours.

      On the other, you can just put down a novel without bothering anyone; walking out on a play is rude and disruptive.Report

  9. LeeEsq says:

    The main problem with Ayn Rand’s writing is that she wants so badly to make her point that she forgets the requirement of good writing. Didactic literature suffers from this flaw a lot. Leftist utopian literature usually suffers from the same flaws.

    Her other problem is that she forgets that less is often more but if you consider her a science fiction or fantasy writer than it’s a common problem.Report

  10. NobAkimoto says:

    Well, at least Rand FINISHED her books….Report

  11. Kolohe says:

    If a person is going to read one thing by Ayn Rand, read Anthem. It’s short, has a coherent message, and is a decent piece of dystopic sci-fi.

    If a person is going to read two things by Ayn Rand, read Anthem and We the Living. There are characters in the latter that are occasionally recognizable as human beings.Report

  12. Mike Schilling says:

    Will, it you’ve never read Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine, about the team that created Data General’s 32-bit minicomputer, you should. It’s right up your alley.Report

    • I have not. Thanks for the recommendation.Report

    • scott the mediocre in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Mike S., I’m assuming the thing you don’t want to tell Will about the Kidder book is the indirect Rand reference in the nomenclature of a certain Data General project which figures in the said book?

      If that assumption of mine is right, then did you know that the Danger, Will Truman! Do not click on this link! FHP was a direct execution machine like the Intel 432? Somehow there’s a good tech irony in there, but I can’t quite CMconnect it.

      #endif comp.arch nerd humor

      • Mike Schilling in reply to scott the mediocre says:

        No, this is all news to me. Thanks.

        The spoiler is that gur Rpyvcfr, juvpu V jbexrq ba ne ONEG va gur yngr 80f jnf n fgrnzvat cvyr bs qbtfuvg.Report

      • scott the mediocre in reply to scott the mediocre says:


        Jung va cnegvphyne qvq lbh ungr [zbfg] nobhg gur Rpyvcfr ZIf? Gur cbbe UJ dhnyvgl pbageby, fbzrguvat nobhg gur qrirybczrag raivebazrag, fbzrguvat ryfr? Lbh fnvq yngr 80f, fb V’z thrffvat orsber NBF/IF VV, be qvq gung cnegvphyne PS unccra ba lbhe jngpu?

        Of course, if you were coming from a VMS environment before (or RSX-11M) I have no doubt that you felt you were in one of the lower circles of hell. Around 86/87, we had to port a bunch of modestly complex real-time code (live flight test telemetry processing) from VMS to the SEL 32/8000 and MPX. Wonderfully fast machines, but oy, not easy or forgiving. Then in 1987 I changed jobs and environments to my very own Sun 3/110 (with cfront! we had only mangled names and we liked it – #pragma kidsthesedays) served by a big VAX with BSD. Heaven – the first time I really felt the system was trying to help me rather than make me work harder. It took till Windows 2000 to get that level of niceness on commodity HW.

        #endif OLDFARTS


      • Mike Schilling in reply to scott the mediocre says:

        V unq rknpgyl pnzr sebz n onpxtebhaq bs EFK11(Z/F/Z+) naq INK/IZF. Jung V ungrq nobhg NBF/IF (abg irefvba 2, nf sne nf V xabj) jnf nyy qrirybczrag raivebazrag fghss, nf V qvqa’g fgnl jvgu gur cebwrpg (gur ONEG genva pbageby flfgrz) ybat rabhtu gb frr nalguvat qrcyblrq.

        N srj uvtuyvtugf:

        Gur qrirybczrag gbbyf nccrnerq ynetryl gb unir orra yvtugyl cbegrq irefvbaf bs gur 16-ovg gbbyf. Vs lbh nfxrq ubj zhpu pbqr na bowrpg svyr pbagnvarq, lbh tbg gur nafjre zbq 65536.

        Gur P pbzcvyre jnf gur jbefg V’ir rire frra. Jura vg pnzr gb n flagnk reebe, vg jbhyq znxr na nffhzcgvba nobhg jung jnf jebat naq gel gb pbagvahr gur pbzcvyngvba, naq xrrc qbvat gung bire naq bire. Naq vg frrzrq gb nyjnlf znxr gur fghcvqrfg cbffvoyr nffhzcgvba. Bar zvffvat frzvpbyba jbhyq trarengr uhaqerqf bs pnfpnqrq reebef.

        Gur “furyy” ynathntr unq ab ybbcvat pbafgehpgf. Gb cebprff zhygvcyr nethzragf erdhverq erphefvba (cebprff gur svefg net, naq gura pnyy lbhefrys jvgu gur erznvavat nethzragf.)

        Qbvat fgngrzrag-yriry qrohttvat erdhverq pbzcvyvat lbhe fbhepr pbqr sbe gung, juvpu trarengrq pbqr jvgu n ab-bc vafgehpgvat orsber rnpu fbhepr yvar. Ranoyvat qrohttvat ercynprq gur AB-BC jvgu n GENC vafgehpgvba. Va gur qvfx vzntr. Vs lbh qvqa’g rkvg gur qrohttre whfg evtug, gur gencf jbhyq fgvyy or gurer, naq lbh’q unir na rkrphgnoyr gung penfurq jurarire lbh gevrq gb eha vg.Report

  13. Road Scholar says:

    In general, I’m not a big fan of overt “message” art. I realize that all really important works fall into that category to some extent, but the key is subtlety. And being skillful at the art part. I confess I’ve never made it through her works so I’ll refrain from specific criticisms, but what I’ve read about it makes me less than enthusiastic to tackle them. By all reports Rand lacks both skill and subtlety.Report

    • @road-scholar

      I agree with you about “message art,” at least when it comes to literature. To me, literature is best when it explores complexity and eschews simple answers. (Disclaimer: I’ve never read Rand, and I’m not claiming that my assessment of the “best literature” is a standard anyone else necessarily needs to have.)Report

    • Saul DeGraw in reply to Road Scholar says:

      Try Brecht. He was good while still being message art.Report

  14. Stillwater says:

    When the movie came out, somebody accidentally or not-so-accidentally referred to it in marketing as “a story of self-sacrifice” when it is, in fact, a story very much against such things. A part of me wonders if basically it was an act of subversion on the part of someone who was hired to to market a product they detested.

    It may have been someone who understood that self-sacrifice actually sells where self-interest doesn’t. Which is sorta ironic, no?

    I’ve never read Atlas Shrugged. None of it. I did try to read The Fountainhead way back when – I was just a lil shaver at the time – and literally threw it down after hearing justaboutenough of Roark’s nonsense. That’s the only book I haven’t felt bad about not finishing, actually.Report

  15. zic says:

    I read it in my dystopian teenage years. I was not impressed.

    I recommend Neuromancer by William Gibson. Warps the soul gentler.Report

  16. Patrick says:

    I didn’t write this, but it remains one of my favorite reviews of AS.Report

  17. Saul DeGraw says:


    Re: Central Planning

    Can you at least see why young people who graduate into an anemic and staying anemic job market are going to be disillusioned with capitalism? They were told as a generation that good jobs would be available if they worked hard and went to college, law school, etc. Now the Boomers are scolding them for living at home, not buying houses, thinking they are too good for low-wage service jobs, or not wanting to go to small-town USA and go solo.

    I would generally consider this not holding up to their side of the bargain and a bargain was made/said even if one should not have been made/said.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      Can you at least see why young people who graduate into an anemic and staying anemic job market are going to be disillusioned with capitalism?

      Sure. Because they were badly educated in economics, getting most of their economics “knowledge” from historians, sociologists, and political scientists.

      Now the Boomers are scolding them for … thinking they are too good for low-wage service jobs,

      I’m not a boomer, but I’ll scold them for that, too. I’ve worked retail. I worked at a shoe store in the mall, and as a grad student working on my Ph.D. I worked as a stock clerk in a building supply store. And if I had to do it again, I would. I’ve got no patience with someone who would refuse to do that work. Fortunately, I’ve met damned few people like that–they seem to exist solely in New York, where there’s probably 30 or so of them, who all hang out at the same Starbucks, whining about not being able to find jobs and not tipping the barista.Report

      • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

        I’ve worked retail. I worked at a shoe store in the mall,

        Respect, brother. Paid my own way through college doing the same. You can make a surprising amount of money in relatively few hours selling shoes, if you hustle.

        And I had a BLAST. Incessant Al Bundy jokes and all.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:


        When did you graduate college and how much was your tuition? Tuition has risen extremely since 2000. There is research that shows you can know longer pay tuition, other assorted fees like books and such with a minimum wage job. Maybe you could if everyone took 10-15 years to graduate but I don’t see that as good policy.

        There is research that shows people are staying underemployed longer and that graduating into a recession can depress wages for years just because of the random luck of graduating into a recession:

      • I’m not a boomer, but I’ll scold them for that, too.

        I am Gen-X and damn close to being a millenial, and I will as well… up to a point. I can understand some reluctance. I can understand “Taking that job won’t be enough to live on and pay back my student loans and I should spend as much time as possible seeking out a job that will.”

        At some point, though, if that job just isn’t coming, some job is better than no job. If, at that point, they think that retail is beneath them, I become not-so-understanding, to say the least.Report

      • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

        @saul-degraw – this was in the early to mid 90’s. And I certainly didn’t go to a high-end school, in NY or CA. Just a middlin’ state school, for a BA. I also, IIRC, took one extra semester to graduate (4.5 years vs. 4) though I didn’t really need to and could have done it in 4 yrs; and I did my first two years (AA) at a community college, which was cheap as hell and all those courses are the basic ones anyway.

        So yeah, I had to accept certain tradeoffs.

        In exchange for those, I also did it with very little help from my parents (though they did send $100 here or there when they could afford to, and they did pay the insurance on my ’69 Beetle while I was in school and buy some gas for it) and with $0 in student debt when I came out the far end.

        And no, I couldn’t have done it on a minimum-wage job (I never took a record store job for this reason, because they inevitably paid min. wage AND I would have blown all that on records). Which is why you want something where you are working for tips (I had other friends who supported themselves much as I did, but by waiting tables – personally, THOSE late hours would have killed me, which is why I stuck with the mall) or commission, as I did.Report

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:


        As a parent of a kid entering college — and one who attended college in the 90s myself — the prices are flipping insane.

        I didn’t really believe it until I started looking at numbers. In inflation adjusted dollars, you’re looking at a doubling in costs for public schools since the mid 90s.

        Minimum wage hasn’t double. Mean American wage hasn’t doubled. Number of hours in a freakin’ week hasn’t doubled.Report

      • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

        @morat20 – Maybe the stigma against doing two years of community college is irrational.

        As a side benefit, if a student flames out early – at community college prices, it’s a situation that can be recovered from.

        And, don’t do minimum wage jobs unless there is no alternative. Look for commission or tipping jobs, where you can maximize return on your time.Report

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:


        Um, the price of community college has ALSO risen. Considerably.

        Which goes back to the same problem: College costs have, roughly, doubled or more in the last 20 years. Whether it’s twice the least money possible course or twice the most expensive school in the US, it’s still…twice as much.

        During that time, wages have been stagnant. Pell grants have no even remotely kept up with numbers, and the cost of student loans has actually increased as a number of ways to reduce costs (like consolidating at a lower interest rate) have been removed.

        So, yeah, no matter how lazy or hard working a kid is, college is gonna cost him twice what I would have paid in 1994 to go to the exact same school, community college or not. Twice as much, in inflation adjusted dollars.Report

      • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

        Might have to move to another state.

        In addition to Wyoming, the other states costing less than Florida are West Virginia, New Mexico, Alaska, Utah and Louisiana.

        For the 2011-12 academic year, this amounted to an average of $5,626

        OK, let’s assume that doesn’t include books, and round it up to $6000. I won’t include room and board, on the assumption that whether you are going to college or not, you need to eat and have a roof over your head. Especially in these states. They get hot and/or cold.

        So, $24,000 for 4 years (though, you DO have to live in Florida. At least they have beaches!). I don’t remember what I paid my last two years of college, but for some reason it seems like around $2000 a semester/$4000 a year, which was admittedly cheaper than this, but not ridiculously so when adjusted. (And I am sure Community College cost less than that.)

        Don’t a lot of kids buy cars that cost $24,000, and pay them off in 5 years? I mean, not me. I had an old used VW beetle that I bought for next to nothing. And it was a furnace in summertime. Black vinyl seats.

        I know college costs have risen significantly, and I really don’t mean to be glib or all “in MY day…”; but it does seem like a lot of people want exactly what they want, exactly where they want it, at the price they want to pay for it, without having to make any financial adjustments at all (even temporarily) to any other parts of their lives to get it.

        Work in high school and save up (I did). Establish residency in another state for a year before you start college so you can get in-state tuition, and work like a fiend during that year and save up. Take a semester off college here and there to work/save, and take 5 years to finish instead of 4, so what, the post-college 9-5 life sucks anyway. Buy a used beater car. SHARE a used beater car. Ride the bus. Get lots of roommates. Get a job selling on commission. College was almost out of reach for my family and many of my friends, but we made it work.

        Right now we are house-hunting, and have had to accept that we cannot afford what we want where we want it, at least without making serious adjustments to our lifestyle elsewhere. I might have to drop HBO. It’s awful.Report

      • Establish residency in another state for a year before you start college so you can get in-state tuition, and work like a fiend during that year and save up.

        As an aside, somebody pointed out to me last weekend that you can, if you are so inclined, move to a state, go to community college for a year (paying full cost), and then transfer to a state university. While most states say that you can’t go and start school immediately, a number of them will let you do so as long as you start at another school. That was what this person did, anyway.

        I am actually lukewarm on the idea of working while you attend school. My father-in-law was a professor and he worked the math out with his students. It turns out, it’s often cheaper to truck through school as fast as you can and pay it back in student loans, if trying to work is going to result in it taking longer to graduate.

        Wyoming is an interesting case. Up until a few years ago, they let out-of-staters enroll in their distance learning school and pay their dirt low in-state tuition rates. I was all about signed up, but then they changed that. North Dakota and South Dakota will waive out-of-state tuition, but their in-state tuition isn’t nearly as low as Wyoming’s. (Still lower than many other states, however.)Report

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        So, $24,000 for 4 years (though, you DO have to live in Florida. At least they have beaches!). I don’t remember what I paid my last two years of college, but for some reason it seems like around $2000 a semester/$4000 a year, which was admittedly cheaper than this, but not ridiculously so when adjusted. (And I am sure Community College cost less than that.)

        I’m not sure how to say this again, but “double costs are double cost”. Yeah, a Harvard degree might be 100 grand instead of 50, and A&M 40 instead of 20, and Florida 25 instead of 12.5, and community college down the street 4k for two years instead of 2k…

        But they’re all roughly doubled or more. It’s STILL twice as much for college as it was 20 years ago, in inflation adjusted dollars.

        Yes, you can bargain and shop around and find the cheapest schools (although, you know, you get what you pay for in a sense, so be careful) but those “cheapest schools” are still roughly twice what they’d have cost 20 years ago.

        I mean, it seems pretty problematic if the cheapest possible college path is as costly, in adjusted dollars, as a 4-year public school degree 20 years ago. Which is really worrisome about what it’s gonna cost in 10 years or 20 years.

        So it doesn’t matter, in aggregate, how much you shop around. Your college freshman today is gonna pay twice as much as you did. But he’s not making a penny more in his average job than you were. His parent’s aren’t making more, in their jobs, than yours were.

        Cost is doubled, income is flat. Shopping around is doesn’t really fix that basic problem. (I mean, if nothing else, once a few thousand kids move to Florida where to the rest go now that the cheap schools are filled up?)Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to James Hanley says:

        To be fair, the barista doesn’t deserve a tip.Report

      • @will-truman

        Re: Wyoming: I almost went to University of Wyoming, and if I had, it would have been part of a program where I (as a Colorado resident) would have paid only 1.5 tuition.

        Your experience was very similar to mine, except that I didn’t go to a community college and I worked a minimum wage job (actually, minimum wage + say, 50 cents). It helped a lot that I had $3,000 scholarship every year on average and because I was able to save up money the last two years of high school (my parents didn’t charge me rent). But yeah, a minimum wage job, starting from nearly 0 saved and with no scholarship, could not have paid even for those (compared to today) low prices.Report

      • Because they were badly educated in economics, getting most of their economics “knowledge” from historians, sociologists, and political scientists

        I see what you did there 🙂Report


        So there’s this.

        I’m still picking through it, but as a cross-sectional sample it’s actually pretty compelling. It has a lot of interesting potential impacts in terms of things like job matching and early exit for unemployment programs, so I’m sure we’ll see critiques.

        Still, it’s an interesting (and honestly somewhat economically counter-intuitive) conclusion.Report

      • Finally, overeducation is associated with lower current as well as future wages, which points to the existence of scarring effects.

        Dumb question: Lower wages compared to their similarly educated counterparts, or their appropriately-educated peers?Report

      • I’m reading the paper, and it appears they’re not really comparing across the same education level, but rather as age cohorts that are then divided by whether they’re over, under, or appropriately matched. They work with cohorts who have 14 years of education (K-12), 16 and 18+ years of education before market entry. Basically they normalize then based on qualifications and do a multi-variate regression.

        ….overeducation appears to be a di?erent phenomenon
        for di?erent groups of workers. On the one hand, it appears to be transitory (while
        still entailing a long-term wage loss) for about two-thirds of overeducated individuals
        in our sample. For the rest, overeducation is instead very persistent. This latter group
        of individuals also exhibit very low returns to required schooling: that is, their wage
        prospects are not much better in jobs that match their relatively high schooling level.


      • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

        @morat20 – apologies for the late reply. I’ve spent some of the intervening time researching a little bit, and want to walk back some of my earlier comments as perhaps a bit glib. My apologies.

        I was certainly aware that college tuition increases over time had gotten bad, but I guess I was unaware exactly HOW bad and how fast (and even accounting for wage stagnation and cost of living – I’ve spent some time looking at a few things, sure something else was being missed in the overall accounting of the situation, but haven’t yet found it) and as someone who himself struggled to get college done, what I was hearing sounded a little like whining.

        We probably won’t see eye to eye on all the causes, or the appropriate remedies, but I can certainly see the contours of the problem (which is, as you say, structural, even if for a few people it can possibly be ameliorated by certain drastic measures…like living in a mosquito-infested hellhole) a bit better now.

        In a way, this feels like the healthcare debate, where I may not like the solution we got, but the fact the R’s wouldn’t even admit there was a problem to address, when it was obvious to anyone who had looked at the numbers on a bill from a hospital that SOMETHING was completely out of whack, was completely infuriating.

        I would ask if you encounter others like me, to please consider that they may be reacting the that way I did because their experience was like mine (an experience that no longer may be applicable) and be a little patient with them, as you were with me.

        Thanks for the info.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      a bargain was made/said even if one should not have been made/said

      Who made this bargain? And please don’t tell me society. Society is not an entity, but a social construct, so it can’t make anything.Report

      • How about the Baby Boomers who were in positions of power, making use of the ways they educated, socialized, and profited from selling stuff and ideas to the younger generations.

        I mean market preferences en masse as they served both as suppliers and consumers regarding their children and grandchildren when they were in power created a certain social structure. This construct is the thing they built. Now they’re blaming us for not navigating the contradictions their choices have created.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:

        Here I dissent but I admit that my dissent is mainly philosophical in nature.

        I do believe in the social contract and that if our elites including elected politicians and unelected very important media people say that college is the sure way to the middle class and upper-middle class and above then it is a form of a bargain.

        Now there might be a good argument for politicians not saying these things but I doubt that would happen in a representative democracy. People rarely get elected by saying everything is chaos and cavaeat emptor.Report

      • I tend to agree with Saul here. There was a societal bargain. Not a sufficiently formal one that the current set has a legal complaint or anything, but (depending on the circumstance) some degree of general anger is warranted.Report

      • Also, it’s pretty rich when a Baby Boomer or slightly under Boomer politician goes out and scolds low-wage workers because “they did fine on minimum wage” when they were young, failing to account for inflation and whether or not increases to minimum wage kept up with it.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:


        I don’t think there is a court case here but I do agree with you on generalized anger and discontent with the system.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        How about the Baby Boomers who were in positions of power, making use of the ways they educated, socialized, and profited from selling stuff and ideas to the younger generations.

        Again, you’re not talking about an entity with consciousness and intentionality. You’re talking about a social construct, and when we talk about social constructs “doing” things like making bargains, we’ve drifted into abstractions, and we’re moving away from, rather than toward, making clear and meaningful analyses.Report

      • On the other hand, while I am looking at this situation and thinking “Maybe we should re-think this whole college thing!” a lot of the people who are upset are more likely to say “Nooooooo!” and I’m not sure how many of them actually regret having gone to college despite how things turned out.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        college is the sure way to the middle class and upper-middle class

        The “sure way”? Guaranteed? I’m not sure I ever heard that. What I always heard was that your odds were better with a college education, that on average people with college educations made more than people with only high school educations. And that’s still true.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        I think you’re right. And these are, I’m sure, the same people who would tell us that college is about so much more than occupational training and career preparation.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:


        Jobs and socio-economic class are very tricky things because while everyone says they want their children to be happy (because you would sound bad to say otherwise), I don’t think many college educated people would be happy if their children ended up in non-college educated jobs or without a college education. There is still a lot of social capital in being college-educated and I admit this is important to me because in the end I have the ideas of the bourgeoise in my upbringing and come from a culture that is built upon thousands years of book learning by tradition and because Jews were excluded from farming and craftsmen positions in Europe. I am a romantic and like the idea of a well-educated society but I know it is untenable to expect people to go into crushing debt for it.

        Most people dislike their debt and job circumstances but they probably do like the prestige and accomplishments that come from formal education in a subject. A person can be self-educated in history, literature, the arts, philosophy, etc but there is something to be said that one is formally educated in those subjects and succeeded at standards set by others.

        We live in a post-industrial, knowledge economy and more and more middle class people are going to require more intellectual over physical skills. I think there is a role in subsidizing college loans or financial aid but the question for me is how to prevent things like this from happening while also keep educational access:

      • I’m sorry that you think it’s an abstraction. But it seems to me, that if the resultant economic landscape is shaped the way it is, with incentive structures the way they are, then there was a collective market preference PLUS a social preference for that outcome regardless.

        So on some level baby boomers wanted one thing as consumers and suppliers, but then taught a different thing, or perhaps simply didn’t recognize what they were doing. But there’s certainly a disconnect between what was preached and what was practiced, and that shows up in things like how consumption habits and inflation across industries have worked.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

        I admit to finding myself wondering when the Boomers are going to start retiring because, seriously, shouldn’t there be a vacuum created by their absence? All these VPs retiring making room for upper management to move there making room for middle management to move in to allow for lower to move up a bit?Report

      • @james-hanley That’s a good point. To the extent that we decide that college is not about financial gain, this line of objection becomes less relevant.Report

      • With regard to the societal bargain, that has probably varied.

        I was very much taught “Go to college, major in something useful, do well, and things will work out.” But that was the 90’s… had I graduated a half-decade letter, it might have been more along the lines of “Your odds are best if…” which remains true. I don’t know where kids who graduated in the aughts pre-recovery would have fallen here.

        The “major in something useful” is, of course, a sticking point. That qualifier is one of the reasons why people like me really do get exasperated by people who didn’t major in something useful and are upset about the lack of opportunity out there. I have chilled out on that somewhat, though it still mixes into the soup of what college is for. And, to a lesser extent, the retail question. As well as the “Should I have to move?” one.Report

      • As an aside, I would have bet cash money that the comment section on this post would not actually produce terribly interesting discussions. I posted it in part to get the Rand-bashing out of the way before I reference her in another post about destroyed capital.

        I’m thrilled to have been wrong. And should remember, even with my very high opinion of this place, I nonetheless underestimate it too frequently.Report

      • scott the mediocre in reply to James Hanley says:


        What I always heard was that your odds were better with a college education, that on average people with college educations made more than people with only high school educations. And that’s still true.

        Indeed, although those two populations differ on all sorts of other indices as well. I’ve looked (casually!) a couple of times for a regression on income that takes some reasonable account of how badly correlated the “independent” variables are (plus the obvious confound that there is no particular reason to assume that the regression should be the same everywhere on the [earned] income curve – segmented regression might make sense there), with little luck. It’s somewhat analogous to the infamous wage penalty for being female problem, but the latter seems to be far more often written about.

        Plus college/non-college, while theoretically a categorical variable, probably hides a vast amount of structure underneath (trivial example – compare median PhD earnings with median MD earnings).

        Anybody have some references to suggest?

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        The “major in something useful” is, of course, a sticking point.

        Yes, mostly because it involves some amount of divination.

        Majoring in law, for instance, right now would be a fairly bad idea. College has a four to six year lag, so “useful right now” means in four years it’s probably “flooded with people”.

        Honestly, by that rubric an education degree is probably the most efficient possible degree. Your pay wouldn’t be so great, but teacher burnout is high and demand is fairly constant.

        My wife pointed out one reason she chose teaching was reading a story of the Great Depression, in which a woman recounted that she had work — as a teacher — while her sibling, a dentist — did not.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        really do get exasperated by people who didn’t major in something useful and are upset about the lack of opportunity out there

        I’m pretty liberal artsy on this point. I can give too many examples of people who majored in non-useful areas and succeeded to be able to agree with that. My friend who majored in history and religion, and became an international shipping executive; the current U.S. diplomat in residence in Ann Arbor, who got a Ph.D. in English and was a college prof before going into the Foreign Service; etc.

        Certainly, the routes aren’t direct, but the routes do exist. The international shipping executive, for example, began his career working in the summer before his senior years as grunt labor in the company’s Long Beach warehouses, and after graduation got a job as a receipts-entry clerk. He moved up in the company by 1) having done a semester abroad in Asia, 2) being smart and hardworking, 3) being diligent about networking within the company so that the bosses knew who he was.

        But all the complaints I’m seeing seem to be on the order of, “I have a college degree, I shouldn’t have to begin in the warehouse or as a mere data-entry clerk.” And maybe there was a time in the roaring ’90s when fresh out of college folks didn’t need to. But my friend graduated college in the late ’80s, and those weren’t easy times, either, despite the supposed Reagan boom (I dropped out of college in 1987, and struggled to find jobs, first in Fort Wayne, Indiana, then Fresno, CA…I can attest that in at least two cities in the U.S., jobs were damned scarce).

        I’m really inclined to think that what people are thinking was the historical norm for college graduates walking into really good jobs was actually a fairly ahistorical blip lasting a little over a decade.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:


        Re: Usefullness.

        What other said. I also think that people say studying art and design is useless but don’t consciously appreciate how much art and design is all around us everyday. This does not only include entertainment (movies, TV, video games, music, books, comic books, etc) but how those products look. Your clothing, furniture, silverware and plates, etc also required art and design.

        Art and Design are everywhere.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to James Hanley says:

        @james-hanley — I guess I’m about the same age as you, and worked some pretty low-down jobs, including pumping gas. So, yeah.

        I think it really is different now, not that the dignity of work has changed, but that the path from a McJob to something real seems less defined. It’s just, I think, grim for people. Breaking out of rut can seem damn near impossible.

        And, you know, given labor statistics, and the difference between job seekers currently employed versus those not — good god I would be terrified if I were an out of work youngster.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to James Hanley says:

        And did I just use the word “youngster”?

        OMG what happened to me!Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        Good points. The fact that middle and upper class people are more likely to complete college than lower class people means there’s some serious multi-collinearity in the data, I would guess.

        As an addendum to my prior comment, I have commented in the past about the Career Seminar class I created and that is a core requirement for our political science majors. I run it as a pretty no-holds barred introduction to reality. “OK” on their resumes, cover letters, and interview questions is never treated as good enough, and we stress the importance of internships (also a requirement for the major), study abroad (which we wish we could make a requirement), and networking, networking, networking. We have alums skype in to talk about their experience in getting into careers, and I ask them to be brutally honest about the roadblocks and how they worked past them.

        Unless they’re deaf, no student of mine will leave college with any expectation that getting into a good career will be easy, but hopefully they’ll understand what they need to do to, over time, make it happen.Report

      • @morat20 I have a great deal of sympathy for people who went to law school at the wrong time. What I struggle to find is sympathy for people who major in Music Composition at pretty much any time. (Which is not comfortable for me to say, because my best friend did that.) That said, I was raised in an engineering town where there were booms and busts. Engineering majors who chose the wrong major did not actually tend to end up where a lot of young people are now. At least, not with the frequency with which a number of liberal arts majored individuals did.

        @james-hanley It’s not that I don’t think that a liberal arts degree can work out. It’s that I think you lose some bitching rights if you go that direction and things don’t work out. In my book, anyway. I do recognize, however, that this relates to what I was taught growing up. Others were taught differently.

        @saul-degraw Perhaps I should have specified “job useful” rather than just saying “useful.” There are a lot of degrees that may be personally fulfilling, may be enjoyable, may give you a better abstract understanding of the world around you. But here we’re talking specifically about the career returns of college. If you are wondering why your college degree isn’t translating into a job, then these things matter.Report

      • j r in reply to James Hanley says:


        It sounds like you’re romantic about the idea of a well-credentialed society as opposed to a well-educated one.

        There is certainly value in talking about the kind of society that we would like to have, but the only real way to make positive change is to spend some time looking at the kind of society that we actually have. From there, we can start talking about how to make the marginal changes that move us closer to where we want to be.

        With that said, I have a prediction. We will continue to see the same sort of frustrating changes in the education and labor markets until we come to terms with the fact that education as skills-acquisition and education as credentialing are two separate things. The unwillingness or inability to disaggregate the two when talking about these issues is the source of much of my frustration when I read articles on higher education.Report

      • @scott-the-mediocre The discussion here might be of interest to you. Or not. I do think that it’s really hard to control for variables, and that most of the “Go to college!” statistics cited do a pretty poor job.

        That said, I’m not going to wager my children’s future on that (yet). So in the current environment, I have difficulty blaming any parent or young person who would err on the side of college.Report

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        What I struggle to find is sympathy for people who major in Music Composition at pretty much any time
        Why? It’s pretty easy to get a job with a degree in that, although you’re not going to become famous.

        If you want to be an artist with that, of course, then you’re in the boat with every other artist — success only comes to a few.

        But you can make a decent living in the field.

        My son, for instance, is majoring in voice — but he plans to be a music therapist, which means his degree is roughly a third music, a third light medical, and a third mental. (Music therapists work with everything from troubled children — as mental therapy — to stroke victims, as physical and regenerative therapy).

        He’d be happy to become a famous pop star too, but a surprising number of people seem to think “voice” is a pointless major, despite the fact that a master’s degree in that means you can practice for, well, not lawyer or doctor money, but definitely engineer level money. (Far more if you’re good and can sustain your own practice).Report

      • My aforementioned friend works as a Verizon kiosk.

        There are a fair number of caveats to my general view. My daughter can major in whatever she wants to and we will approve and try to pay for it… just so long as she can answer the question “And what do you want to do with this degree?” satisfactorily, with the follow-up where applicable “And what happens if life intervenes and you don’t get the PhD?”

        The other major caveat is what college is costing. If she gets a full scholarship somewhere, that invites more choices.Report

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        It’d be nice to know why college costs doubled or more in the last 20 years, despite flat incomes.

        People would be far better positioned to handle post-college problems if they had half the debt.Report

      • In alphabetical order: Administration, frills, and slackening state support (on a per-student basis, anyway) (For state schools, obviously).Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:


        Perhaps a bit. I think some people can be self-educated or continue educating themselves after school but there is also value in credentialism and formal education.


        I agree that people should expect to work up from the entry level and prove themselves but as jaybird pointed out, many employers do not want to invest effort in training as much or see a value in it.Report

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        State support’s a big one, at least here in Texas. A good chunk of the price increase for public schools has been the fact that state per-student spending hasn’t kept up even remotely.

        Administration, one would think would vary — same with frills.

        And competition should drive prices down (yes, you have to be accredited but it’s not exactly an impossible bar and there are TONS of accredited colleges, plenty for competition), yet they seem to be rising in lockstep.

        There was a great deal of state and federal support for all colleges that has disappeared (which is probably true, but not ‘double prices’ true), but no one’s been slashing such things lately. (Although I note the there was a good giant jump in prices in 2003-2004. No idea why.).

        I’m not really buying the student loans theory — people can borrow more so they can charge more I guess is a cycle, but then couldn’t another school get more students — and more money — by having better prices?

        Faculty, tenured or not, haven’t really seen massive wage increases (admin might be different), many more classes are taught by wage-slave post-grads anyways.

        Demand? But we should see that in numbers of students applying and attending. It’d have to be a nation-wide surge. Demand makes more sense for name-recognition schools like Harvard or MIT, but huge schools like Texas A&M and UT have also seen prices soar — as have community colleges (even if they’re still a fraction of the price of a 4-year school).

        I’m sure it’s a mess of different factors.Report

      • Notably, Texas’ tuition rates are growing more slowly than most states (since 2008, anyway). Texas also supports its state universities more than most other states (in 2012), both as a percentage of tuition and as a dollar amount. And the decline in state support is less in Texas (6.1% between 2007 and 2012) than any state but Alaska, West Virginia, Montana, and Illinois. (source)

        There is little relationship between D and R and tuition rate growth, which you would think would be the case if it were a state government thing.

        I don’t think that student loans are to blame. But I do think they have enabled colleges to spend more, so they played a role. I do think that college costs would drop dramatically if student loans were erased (they would have to, or close), but that would come at tremendous cost and college would be less workable for a whole lot more people than is currently the case.Report

      • j r in reply to James Hanley says:

        What @morat20 said is important and often misunderstood. The idea that you have to major in some small set of practical majors or else be resigned to a life of barista work is just not true.

        For on thing, your institution will matter much more than your degree. A history major from Harvard will likely have as easy time getting into finance or consulting than a Finance major from Boston College and will have an easier time than a Finance major from U of State-Not Flagship.

        What the U of State graduate needs to be able to do is signal to an employer that they have some skills that the employer can put to work right away and a real interest in the work that justifies the effort to train the employee on all the rest. You can major in Art History and find work as a graphic designer if you can show that you know how to use the relevant software and don’t think that the work is somehow below you. You can major in English and get a job in advertising or marketing. You can major in Psychology and get a job in HR. So forth and so on.

        The problem is that lots of people simply have neither a clear vocation or a practical streak at the age of 18.Report

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        The problem is that lots of people simply have neither a clear vocation or a practical streak at the age of 18.

        I think that’s one of the big pitfalls of college — especially more expensive college, now. It helps that the first two years are pretty generic, so you can spend your first two years without ‘wasting’ too much money on degree-specific classes if you swap degrees, but…

        Still, we tell 18 year olds “You’re lucky if you make more than minimum wage, unemployment is high. Borrow enough to buy a nice car, invest in your entire future — and changing your mind on what you want to do can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Good luck!”

        But telling them not to go to college (when they are capable of it) is saying “Welcome to, if you’re lucky, lower middle class. Really lower middle class, really.”.

        And if they wait too long, they’re doing college, working, and paying for families and stuff.

        Too hard to change course if you pick a field you realize you’re not good at (or don’t like) three years into your education. Too expensive an investment for someone at what is pretty much defined as the poorest of his life.

        I start wondering if a system of “You hack the tests and pass the acceptance interviews, college is paid for as long as your grades are good” fully paid for college system is a better way to go. We spend more time and effort trying to help people pay for college (loans and scholarships and grants and subsidies, direct and indirect)..

        I dunno. I just think the current model is rapidly running up against a wall, even as actually HAVING that piece of paper is more and more a requirement for middle class.

        And I don’t think that there’s a technology Jesus that’s gonna save us. I’m..skeptical…of MOOCs or any other big “We’ll change the paradigm!” stuff. Maybe they will. But the odds are they won’t. And the problem will still persist.Report

      • Fantastic comment, @morat20 and (in a bit of a rarity!) very much in line with my own thoughts.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:

        @j-r @morat20

        Re: Vocation and Practicality at 18

        Is it true that most 18 year olds are not practical? Isn’t business one of the most popular if not thee most popular college major? I seem to meet plenty of people who major in practical subjects from accounting to marketing to business, etc.

        There seem to be several issues here.

        1. When politicians talk about STEM. They are really talking about sTEm. They want 20-sometings who will make apps and get venture capital. Not the next Neal DeGrasse Tyson or Richard Feynman.

        2. A woman I went to law school with majored in chemistry in university and then worked at Genentech for a bit. She went to law school because she said the only way to get promoted at Genentech was get a PhD and that was too much work. Another law school friend had a similar decision but was a bio guy. So it is clear that undergrad science degrees are potentially largely useless one goes to med school or gets a PhD.

        3. In Paying for the Party: How college maintains inequality, the authors show how connections and socio-economics can still trump usefulness of major or how picking a useful major can still backfire.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        I’m not talking about training. I’m talking about parlaying one position/job into another position/job. If there are other positions coming open where you work, use your knowledge of the company to go for that job. And be the kind of person they want to promote, not someone they view as whiny and unhappy about being entry level. I once worked with a guy who slacked off a lot, and his justification was “they don’t pay me enough to work hard,” to which someone responded, “and nobody ever will.”

        Make yourself known to people in higher positions. Schmooze them. Gree them when you see them, and introduce yourself. I teach my students to practice their “elevator speech,” how you introduce yourself to the big boss when you’ve got 30-60 seconds on an elevator with them. It’s not an easy skill; it takes practice. But to practice it, you first have to know that you should be trying to meet these people–not waiting for them to notice you, but make them notice you–and have an elevator speech ready.

        Keep in mind that most job openings are never advertised. They’re in-house, and what you really want is for someone to say, “Hey, what about Saul down there in E-Sector? He seems like a bright hard-working guy.”

        Of course not every company is going to have better opportunities available to you when you happen to work there. So, yeah, recessions suck balls. Or it may be a company you don’t want to stay with because you know you’d be miserable there. So use the fact of having a job to help you get another job, because it’s a hell of a lot easier to get a job when you have a job. But you’ll have to look hard, and you’ll need to network.

        And that’s hard when you’re working, and you just want some time to rest. But here’s the big stick of knowledge–if you’re not willing to work that hard (and as a lazyass myself, I understand that), it says something about how hard you’ll be willing to work in a job.

        Bluntly put, complaining that a company won’t train you is making an assumption that somebody ought to be doing something for you. That assumption needs to be killed, a stake driven through its heart, and buried in a poured concrete vault. Remember Kennedy’s inaugural speech, when he said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”? Whether we like it or not, firms want to hear what employees can do for them, not what they can do for employees. Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s a bad business model not to invest in training employees. But if that’s the point someone wants to make in their job interview, or the excuse they want to use for not being able to find a good job, they’re a fool blaming others for their own lack of success.Report

      • Yeah, science would be a higher bar to clear than others, should Lain be interested. There would hopefully be a scholarship involved.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        I just think the current model is rapidly running up against a wall,

        I fully agree. I think big changes are in store, and I think there’ll be more emphasis on credentialing. The liberal arts in particular are going to have to learn how to sell themselves if they want to remain very viable. (All liberal arts faculty believe a liberal arts education is a very good path to good careers, but all they–we–can do is parrot that as a sacred belief; hardly any of us even recognize the importance of actively marketing that idea, much less have any idea of how to do it.)

        And I don’t think that there’s a technology Jesus that’s gonna save us. I’m..skeptical…of MOOCs or any other big “We’ll change the paradigm!” stuff. Maybe they will. But the odds are they won’t.

        While fully admitting that I’m making a prediction about an uncertain future, so I could easily be dead wrong, I tend to disagree. I think the future will be about credentialing, with less concern about how you got that credential (excepting obvious scams like the Certificate in Nuclear Engineering from the Ordinary University). I think the big bosses will often still be the traditional liberal arts folks, because–ideally–that style of education teaches them to think broadly and link different ideas and disciplines together. But most people who get degrees don’t become the big bosses, and don’t need the full liberal arts education to succeed at their job.

        Right now I’m working on an on-line “Professional Certificate in Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies,” offered by Stanford University. Now a professional certificate is not a degree, not by a mile. But to the average schmo out there, it’s going to sound impressive, especially since it comes from Stanford, not University of Central NorthEastern South Dakota. Further, Stanford also offers an on-line “Graduate Certificate” (requiring more serious learning than the Professional Certificate) and on-line MAs.

        I don’t for a moment think everything can be taught well on-line, but I think a lot more can than is comfortable for traditional types like myself.

        I could be wrong, no doubt. But these methods are cost-effective. If the actual level of learning is somewhat less, the cost of production is even much less yet. A Ford Focus may be no Mercedes S Class, but sometimes a Focus is all you need, or is a stepping stone toward the Mercedes. And I think it’s that cost-effectiveness that will drive it. Ultimately, of course, it will depend on people viewing the degrees and certificates as legitimate, but with the name of Stanford, or MIT, who’s doing MOOCs, behind it, I suspect that’s going to happen.

        I’m not entirely happy about that, from a personal and professional perspective. But thinking like an economist, I think it’s actually a desirable thing. And I think going to college is overrated anyway. Party atmospheres dominate, administrations obsessed with retention and graduation rates (both for the revenue and because of federal regs pertaining to eligibility to have your students receive federal financial aid) are unwilling to stand up for tougher learning standards, and studies show that few students actually develop the critical learning skills that a college education–especially a liberal arts education–is supposed to inculcate.

        I think we can produce something very close to the level of education we’re currently producing at much lower cost. And it will be a function of technology, as education follows agriculture in transitioning from being labor intensive to being capital intensive.

        20 years ago I had this conversation with a guy who was then an editor at Wired. He believed education had to become more efficient via technology, and I vigorously disagreed that education was susceptible to efficiency gains from technology (and his arguments were not, at the time, very well fleshed out). Now, twenty years on in this business, I’ve come to conclude he was right, even if he, at the time, couldn’t satisfactorily explain why.

        (OK, that comment spun out of control, and I apologize for getting up on a soapbox. Let my final statement be, “I could be dead wrong.”)Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Again, you’re not talking about an entity with consciousness and intentionality.

        Hey, we’re not all stoned all the time.Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      Now the Boomers are scolding them for living at home, not buying houses, thinking they are too good for low-wage service jobs, or not wanting to go to small-town USA and go solo.

      More to the point, they were threatened with low-wage service jobs as “punishment” for failing to work hard and do well in school. “Study hard or you’ll end up flipping burgers [and none of us will respect you because you’re a failure].” Something changed along the line and the new position is, “Why won’t you flip burgers? Are you too good for it?” Gee, I can’t imagine the reluctance.

      This is why it’s bad to teach people to disrespect any type of work. College-educated people laughing at a guy for becoming a mechanic is both an assholish thing to do and a great way to create an unhealthy culture that prevents people from taking perfectly good jobs for purely social reasons.Report

      • This is an outstanding comment, Frog.Report

      • They’ve also (through their choices as market actors) have made it much more difficult to actually maintain a decent lifestyle by doing low-wage service jobs, hollowing out smalltown USA, and the simple fact that the jobs they disdained haven’t kept up with cost of living.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        I agree with this column. The trick with supply and demand for professions though is that it is impossible to figure out how much of X job you need in any given time, country, area, etc and as noted in previous threads getting people to live their familial-friend support circles (this goes across socio-economic class.)Report

      • I was very lucky to be one of the last people hired with the expectation that I was “fresh meat” and wouldn’t make a whole lot of money (12 bucks an hour) but I would get On The Job Training that would make me worth more to the company and worth more as an employee.

        And, whaddya know, I got trained and was worth more to the company and worth more as an employee.

        Then, when outsourcing started a short time later, the company stopped hiring “fresh meat”.

        Now, I understand, companies are complaining about not having mid-level techs. Just a whole bunch of people without experience *OR* people who have been doing this thing for a while.

        They ate their own damn seed corn to make a buck and now they’re trying to figure out why they can’t hire anybody with the skill sets they want.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Troublesome Frog says:


        When I was in grad school, I had a part time job that paid 10 bucks an hour. A guy who graduated college in 1978 told me that his first out of college job paid the same and he was able to make a decent living on that.

        Concurred on the training thing.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        Excellent points, @troublesome-frog.Report

      • @troublesome-frog

        I’ll join the others agreeing. I really hate the “you’ll have to flip burgers” trope for a lot of reasons. The most important one is the one you mention.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      I recently read an editorial about Portland’s tolerance (or lack thereof) for alternative lifestyles and the complaints about how Portland’s prejudice results in a guy being prevented from making an honest buck despite the fact that he has a college degree.

      It failed to result in a whole lot of sympathy/empathy on my part but maybe you’ll see him as a great example of what you’re talking about.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Or maybe he won’t see it that way, because that’s a bit different. Most of the kids having trouble getting jobs are having trouble getting jobs because there aren’t jobs. That dude can’t get a job because he stuck stuff in his face.

        Anyway, aren’t we going to have a symposium about these sorts of things?Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        And by “a bit different” I mean that it’s so completely different that suggesting they’re the same thing is pretty unfair.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’ve only been to Portland once and it was for three days but I am pretty sure I saw people with facial piercings and uncoverable tattoos working. I would wonder if there is a male/female dichotomy potentially. Maybe women with tattoos are still much less threatening seeming than guys with tattoos.

        Interestingly I remember reading that a lot of Amazon warehouse workers have facial piercings and tattoos.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        You’re absolutely right.

        I just heard echoes with the tone.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        Maybe women with tattoos are still much less threatening seeming than guys with tattoos.

        And much, MUCH less threatening than someone who’d tattoo an upside-down cross between his eyes.

        Whatever your views on religion, or Satanism, or tattoos, getting a tattoo like THAT says “I don’t give a single solitary fuck.”

        Which is not what most prospective employers are looking for.

        Except the Satanist ones. And “Big Beelzebub’s Bargain Barn” closed down last year.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Jaybird says:


        Not only that but someone in the comments pointed out that his girlfriend was wearing a hoodie with the SS insignia on it. I didn’t notice it at first because you can only see 3/4 of one S but upon second looking, the S is unmistakable.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, that could be a standard-issue lightning bolt of some kind. From the cross and the runes or whatever those are, I’m thinking “black metal fans”.

        At least he’s a considerate lover, as indicated by the “69” on his cheek.

        You know what, I think we should give this guy a chance!Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        That’s not an SS insignia.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Jaybird says:

        @glyph @chris

        Hypo: A potential employee comes in with visible lighting ruin symbols that look potentially like the SS insignia but are something from black metal or something like that.

        Is the burden on the employer to do research to determine whether it is an SS insignia or is the burden on the employee to point it out? Does an Employer need to take clients word on the matter or can they choose not to hire based on legitimate concerns that confusion over the matter can lead to an impression of a hostile workplace and an employer who condones hate messages?Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m assuming she doesn’t wear a hoodie to job interviews. If she does, then the insignia on the hoodie is down the line on her list of problems.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      On a historical note, central planning and other socialist ideas were tremendously popular during the mid-20th century for very good reason. None of the new countries after WWII were going to adopt a free market system because they associated capitalism with imperial exploitation.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

        And once the Wall fell?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Then, Darmok and Jalad, on the ocean.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Irrational prejudice is a very good reason?Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to LeeEsq says:


        Why is it irrational to reject the economic system of people who invaded and occupied your country and treated you very poorly and subjected you to “free trade/open port” agreements that were not very good for your country? Also you got treated as a second class person.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        For one, it’s the economic system that enabled them to invade and occupy your country.Report

      • morat20 in reply to LeeEsq says:

        So most of Europe should be fascist? Because let’s face it, Germany sorta steamrolled everyone until the numbers against it just got ludicrous.

        Person for person, they did better than America, Russia or conquered Europe in terms of “invading and occupying”.

        Capitalism didn’t so much as re-invade Europe as merely be efficient enough to handle a fascist state that had, what, quintupled it’s size and then picked a fight with a country capable of throwing away ten times or more as many men at a problem?Report

      • Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

        “If we just switch to their system, we will be able to afford to act immorally and inhumanly too!”Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Okay, fair enough, though I’ll point out that Germany wasn’t built on fascism. My point is that capitalism worked out really well for the first wave of first-world nations. For other countries then to reject capitalism, despite its impressive track record, just because some other capitalist nations were jerks to them was irrational prejudice. And the result has been decades of unnecessary poverty.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to LeeEsq says:


        By that logic, it is perfectly rational for China to be Communist because Mao did much better than Chang Kai Shek.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

        (30ish million unavailable for comment)Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to LeeEsq says:


        I wasn’t making a pro-Communist statement. I was poking a whole in Brandon’s argument. He was saying might makes right essentially.Report

      • Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

        They’re probably hanging out with the Native Americans, enslaved Africans, Indian famine victims, and so on, those 30 mil.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I don’t know the usefulness of comparing leaders from one era with another but I do think that it’d be fair to say that if someone was arguing that Jackson was better than van Buren that a response discussing the trail of tears would be more than appropriate.

        But, hey, if all Mao was doing was the same thing that we did, I guess we can’t criticize him.

        Out of curiosity, who *CAN* we criticize? Alternately, is there anything worth criticizing if we can’t criticize Mao?Report

      • Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

        It’s perfectly fine to criticize Mao. He was a monster.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        They abandoned it once the Wall fell if not before, Jaybird. I’m just pointing out that socialist thought was attractive for good reasons in the 20th century. That didn’t make it work but there was no way the new countries were going to adopt free market capitalism.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

        No one responded to my joke.

        Shaka, when the walls fell.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Mirab, his sails unfurled.

        *Points to thread*Report

      • Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The river Temarc in winter, nerds.Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:


        but I do think that it’d be fair to say that if someone was arguing that Jackson was better than van Buren that a response discussing the trail of tears would be more than appropriate.

        But @saul-degraw wasn’t arguing that Jackson was better. He was saying “arguing that Napoleon III was better than Louis Phillippe is like saying Jackson is better than Henry Clay.”

        The only phrase I remembered from the episode was “shakka,” along with “someone and someone at Tenagra.” But I thought that’s where you were going. “Likko and Trumwill at the thread!”Report

  18. Brandon Berg says:

    @saul-degraw Well, no, not really. Mao and Chiang came from the same country. They were proposing different economic systems, but the outcome of the war was entirely unrelated the relative economic merits of those systems. And in point of fact, Taiwan is now much wealthier on a per-capita basis than China. The only reason China is a threat to Taiwan now is the fact that the communists won a war 65 years ago, thus gaining overwhelming numerical superiority.

    Similarly, Germany wasn’t built on fascim.

    I’m not saying might is right. I’m saying that an economic system that provides resources vastly superior to your own might be a good bet.Report

    • Uhhh….I’m pretty sure that this guy would disagree with your assertion that Germany wasn’t built on fascism, much less socialism:

      The argument has never been that other forms of centrally planned economic systems are incapable of doing anything, particularly war, well. The argument is actually quite the contrary – they are not only entirely capable of doing specific things very well in the short or medium term, they are actually almost guaranteed to do so precisely because they are centrally planned. Central planning is a guaranteed way to overproduce the living crap out of stuff that is deemed politically useful, while horribly underproducing just about everything else and seriously messing around with civil liberties in the process. In the long run, the argument might go, the system is unsustainable even with the civil liberties destructions, but in the short and medium term, a centrally planned economy can become quite powerful in its chosen areas of overproduction.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Germany went fascist immediately prior to World War II, right? The Nazis built the war machine, but not the economic base that made it possible. Wouldn’t the USSR be a better counterexample?Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        But yes, I concede the point that military might is a lousy proxy for general prosperity. Again, here’s the comment I should have posted originally:

        Capitalism worked out really well for the first wave of first-world nations. For other countries then to reject capitalism, despite its impressive track record, just because some other capitalist nations were jerks to them was irrational prejudice. And the result has been decades of unnecessary poverty.Report

      • Ehh, Road to Serfdom is more or less intended as an argument that socialism begat Nazism. What’s more, the German economy was in a complete and utter shambles when the Nazis took over – 30 percent unemployment. The Nazis engaged in massive deficit spending aimed at both getting unemployment down and ramping up the military.

        From Wikipedia (

        “The economic policies of the Third Reich were in the beginning the brainchildren of Schacht, who assumed office as president of the central bank under Hitler in 1933, and became finance minister in the following year. Schacht was one of the few finance ministers to take advantage of the freedom provided by the end of the gold standard to keep interest rates low and government budget deficits high, with massive public works funded by large budget deficits.[23] The consequence was an extremely rapid decline in unemployment – the most rapid decline in unemployment in any country during the Great Depression.[23] But whether this helped the average German is a matter of debate—while more Germans had jobs, a focus on rearmament meant rationing in food, clothing, metal, and wood [29] for most citizens. Rationing eventually extended to use of fuel and production of cars, leaving many Germans unable to drive. Goering nationalized the steel industry and formed the Hermann Goering Works in 1937 with a goal of providing cheap iron and coal.[30] However, production fell short of rearmament demand. When production in the nationalized iron ore industry declined, “brown shirts” seized private stores from factories, churches, and cemeteries.[31]”

        Indeed, Hayek’s entire argument is that socialism* begets totalitarianism and that the rise of the Nazis was caused by the failures of socialism in Germany.

        Yes, Soviet Russia is another example, but the point is that the growth of German military power and Nazism was not enabled by capitalism, but rather was a consequence of the failures of socialism.

        *It’s worth emphasizing that much of what we call socialism now -e.g., Scandinavian socialism – would not have been the sort of socialism Hayek was talking about.Report