What Would You Tell Atlas?

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged threw me into a thoughtful analysis of how much influence government has on entrepreneurs. I haven’t read the book, but I had the opportunity to see one of the movies when invited by a couple of movie reviewers to watch it with them (read my first two reflections on Part 1 and Part 2). These deep thoughts beg an example, and a good example happened earlier this school year.

If you saw Atlas carrying the exhausting weight of the world on his shoulders, what would you tell him?


Choosing between private and public

I had a family nearly join our debate club this year. The mom and two boys were very interested in the program. They fully recognized the superior skills my club and curriculum would teach them (I don’t have time to persuade you of this in this blog post, but click the link to find out more: it is hands down the best thing in the world to get your kids involved in).

They decided not to take the opportunity. Why not? Because they were charter school students, and all their time was devoted to the academics of their charter school. But it was more than just time: if they dropped classes to part-time status in order to do speech and debate, they would lose a significant amount of funding for their schooling.

Let me make this extremely clear:

An American family dropped what they knew was the best academic activity available – worth so much more than what the government option offered – because of the financial and time-consuming pressure from the government option. 

Do you see how the government becomes a competitor? Arguably, the government is a manipulator, much like a monopoly that uses its unchallenged dominance to make sure its interests are protected. Most think government exists to maintain roads and bridges alone, but today it exists – for a large part – to nationalize industries.

Industries like education. Atlas Shrugged was written as a futuristic idea of how America could evolve. Folks, we’re living it today.

What would you tell Atlas?

In Atlas Shrugged, one of the tycoons gave up fighting the government. He even blew up his own mining operation, let his stock value plummet, and allowed the government take over the entire industry. Like the other creatives who were vanishing, he was burned out and mentally exhausted. He asked his tycoon friend, “If you saw Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders, exhausted with the weight of it all, what would you tell him to do?”

“I don’t know. What would you tell him?”

“I’d tell him to shrug.”

In other words, give in. Let the world suffer the consequences of its desire to take from the industrious, live off the producers, and nationalize the private sector. Such a world is extremely frustrating to the creative and productive. The scary realization when watching the movie: that world is upon us now.

This movie is the second of a 3-part trilogy. I bet the third part of the movie will show the world falling. We’ll see. Such a conclusion validates that which most entrepreneurs know: the government temps us to surrender our creativity and shrug the world from our shoulders. This, I believe, is unfortunate.

Question: What would you tell Atlas?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Nina

    Is the government a competitor or providing an opportunity? I’ll go with the latter. You could give the young people credit for being committed to what they had already chosen- their charter school. It must have been a difficult decision because what you were offering was excellent.

    I say this because government- in the form of public school- gave my daughter the opportunity to excel in what she does best- math and science. When the high school ran out of math and chemistry classes for her to take, they paid the tuition over at UCCS (which makes it sound like such a deal until we wrote the checks for the textbooks and fees!).

    But, it meant sacrifice. Her afternoons and evenings were spent over at the university, plus driving time, and she could not participate in some clubs should would have liked to have been in. It was like being at a buffet. Delicious options. Only one plate.

    I can’t say public school in our daughter’s case was competing against anything in the private sector. What would have happened if the only options were private schools or homeschooling? AP Physics and AP chemistry and AB/BC Calculus aren’t classes I could have taught and few private schools in the area would have taught to that level. Because of her excellent opportunity, I cringe when I hear of public schools described as some sort of evil.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, but you’re missing the point. The public option is not “just another option.” It is a coerced, manipulative alternative that suppresses a thriving private sector. In Ayn Rand’s narrative, that’s akin to telling Atlas to suck it up rather than baring some of the weight yourself. The private sector (like me) is tempted to shrug, and that’s when you see it all falls apart — public and private alike.

      • JDK

        I don’t think the government should stop offering educational options so that your home business can succeed.

        No one is coercing anyone to go to public schools. In my area, we are free to choose from many public, private and charter options, as well as homeschooling.

        Everyone wants the kids, because kids bring money. A charter school wants the kids, because of state funding. You want the kids, because they pay to go to your club. There is no “right” place the money should go.

      • Nina

        It was not coerced. How is offering chemistry, math and physics seen as manipulative? There is no agenda in calculus. Either you work the problem correctly or you don’t. Period. Ditto for physics and chemistry. Bear some of the weight ourselves? We are not islands. We work together as human beings and specialization of skills creates a better world for us all (consider if a heart surgeon had to grow all his own food and sew his own clothes- no time for saving lives)/

        I did not have the skills to teach AP calculus therefore the option of homeschooling would have been a poor one, as my daughter’s talents would have languished in my hands. Are private schools offering the very best in the hard sciences and math? Some do- but they are only for the very wealthy. A child with wealthy parents might partake of the bounty of private education,but what of those with talent and promise who cannot afford such a thing? It would be a loss.

        Our family has been educated in the public schools, the public universities. It’s not an option that should ever fall apart- we have seen success because of good public schools and the good teachers contained within. Engineering, decades ago, was seen as the poor man’s ladder into the middle class. It takes hard work, but make opportunities affordable and hard workers will avail themselves.

        • Nina, are you even trying to understand? You’re obviously offended, but I can’t help but call a spade a spade. Government competes against the private sector. Arguing that is silly. Stay with me on this idea and you’ll learn self-reliance and independence.

          • Nina

            Maybe some things shouldn’t be run as a business. Is the public library really competing against Barnes and Noble and Amazon? It’s there for the greater good, just as public education is for the greater good. We are still free to choose options and I don’t think Harvard, Yale and other private institutions are going to collapse because we opted for state schools. Nobody is making that choice for citizens- we are free to go to the schools of our choosing, nor not.

            As for the charter school that required full time attendance- they need to have speech and debate as part of their curriculum and parents should be speaking up about someone being hired for that position.

            • Amazon, etc. and libraries aren’t competitors. Amazon sells books, not rent them. Libraries compete with book exchanges. Which aren’t that common, are they?

  • JDK

    In Ayn Rand’s world, your club was unsuccessful because it was not as attractive as the academic option. Competition at it’s best. That’s what the book recommends (I’ve read it).

  • april61

    Our family has made the choice to invest time and money in the academic activity of speech and debate, but I can’t assume that our choice is God’s best plan for every homeschool family. It may be the “best academic activity available,” but some families value something else, such as service or music or a home business, more highly than academics. That’s the beauty of home education–flexibility to live a life of learning in our own way. Let’s not pressure other families to give up their individuality just because it fits into an argument you are trying to make about the government.

    • I get what you’re saying, but this example is a great one that shows the power of government doing business that directly competes with the private sector. That’s my opinion, anyway, easy to see when you’re trying to offer something privately.

  • DavidS

    Government isn’t a real competitor.
    I would label it as a leech, although that is unfair to leeches because at some point, they stop sucking your blood.

    Government takes the wealth of individuals by force (taxation), and uses the stolen resources to bribe, coerce or influence others. Often, it attracts people away from a valid entrepreneur by the promise of the same services and goods for “free”. This action devaluates the work of valid business people and entrepreneurs to the end consumer.

    Whenever you are tempted to accept an government assistance, remember this:

    The resources the government is offering have been taken from someone else by force. If you wouldn’t steal your neighbor’s wallet to buy groceries or to pay for education, then don’t have the government do it for you.

    • I read your first line and thought, “Great, another ‘the gov’t is peachy” comment. I read the second line and burst out laughing.

      You bring up a good reminder: the government takes. It doesn’t create a thing. The illusion (from some below) is that it does, but in reality they’re feeding the leech.

  • Jay Seville

    Nice piece.