I am still reading Atlas Shrugged (and I am basically on the last few hundred pages). I’ve reached a stage where I could see parts of the Communism dictatorship in Romania, where I could see what a greedy government can do to its people and I could see that favours and money made the world go round. I know it. I’ve lived in it. And reading Atlas Shrugged brought it all back to me.
I’ve reached a stage in the book where Ayn Rand is explaining in great detail what happens if the men in power listen to whimsical ideas whispered in their ears rather than think of consequences. They’ve nearly nationalized all the railroads through the Railroad Unification Act and they’ve diverted 15,000 train carts from the harvest in Minnesota to a soy-bean farm project a colleague of theirs was blabbing about. The granaries of the country – ready to dispatch their wheat to the starving people – left alone in their single hour of need.
“Well, after all, it is a matter of opinion whether wheat is essential to a nation’s welfare-
While the flour mills and grain markets of the country were screaming over the phones and the telegraph wires, sending pleas to New York and delegations to Washington, while strings of freight cars from random corners of the continent were crawling like rusty caterpillars across the map in the direction of Minnesota-the wheat and hope of the country were waiting to perish along an empty track..
At the communication desks of Taggart Transcontinental, a small crew kept calling for freight cars, repeating, like the crew of a sinking ship, an S.O.S, that remained unheard.
In Minnesota, they were seizing cars from every siding, from the Mesabi Range, from the ore mines of Paul Larkin where the cars had stood waiting for a dribble of iron. They were pouring wheat into ore cars, into coal cars, into boarded stock cars that went spilling thin gold trickles along the track as they clattered off. They were pouring wheat into passenger coaches, over seats, racks and fixtures, to send it off, to get it moving, even if it went moving into track-side ditches in the sudden crash of breaking springs, in the explosions set off by burning journal boxes.
They fought for movement, for movement with no thought of destination, for movement as such, like a paralytic under a stroke, struggling in wild, stiff, incredulous jerks against the realization that movement was suddenly impossible. There were no other railroads: James Taggart had killed them; there were no boats on the Lakes: Paul Larkin had destroyed them. There was only the single line of rail and a net of neglected highways.
The trucks and wagons of waiting farmers started trickling blindly down the roads, with no maps, no gas, no feed for horses-moving south, south toward the vision of flour mills awaiting them somewhere, with no knowledge of the distances ahead, but with the knowledge of death behind them-moving, to collapse on the roads, in the gullies, in the breaks of rotted bridges.
One farmer was found, half a mile south of the wreck of his truck, lying dead in a ditch, face down, still clutching a sack of wheat on his shoulders. Then rain clouds burst over the prairies of Minnesota; the rain went eating the wheat into rot at the waiting railroad stations; it went hammering the piles spilled along the roads, washing gold kernels into the soil.
The men in Washington were last to be reached by the panic. They watched, not the news from Minnesota, but the precarious balance of their friendships and commitments; they weighed, not the fate of the harvest, but the unknowable result of unpredictable emotions in unthinking men of unlimited power. They waited, they evaded all pleas, they declared,
“Oh, ridiculous, there’s nothing to worry about! Those Taggart people have always moved that wheat on schedule, they’ll find some way to move it!”
Then, when the State Chief Executive of Minnesota sent a request to Washington for the assistance of the Army against the riots he was unable to control-three directives burst forth within two hours, stopping all trains in the country, commandeering all cars to speed to Minnesota.
Ma’s freight cars were in California, where the soybeans had been sent to a progressive concern made up of sociologists preaching the cult of Oriental austerity, and of businessmen formerly in the numbers racket.
In Minnesota, farmers were setting fire to their own farms, they were demolishing grain elevators and the homes of county officials, they were fighting along the track of the railroad, some to tear it up, some to defend it with their lives-and, with no goal to reach save violence, they were dying in the streets of gutted towns and in the silent gullies of a roadless night.
Then there was only the acrid stench of grain rotting in half-smouldering piles-a few columns of smoke rising from the plains, standing still in the air over blackened ruins..
The harvest of soybeans did not reach the markets of the country: it had been reaped prematurely, it was moldy and unfit for consumption.