Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Atlas Still Shrugging

Last winter, on a whim, I reread Ayn Rand’s great novel, Atlas Shrugged. It’s a bit of a time warp at first as you are immersed in a world of trains, smoke-stacks and cigarette-smoking after sex. It’s the late forties after all and that is the way it was. But, within that framework the reader can’t help but be dazzled at the prescience of the author. Her characterizations initially seem a bit over the top, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the world she painted so ruthlessly is here, today. The radical egalitarianism that seeks to “level the playing field” and preserve our “self esteem” while handicapping creative entrepreneurs and rewarding the least productive in our society is all around us. It doesn’t take the scraping of any veneer to see it in the media, the movies, the classroom, everywhere. It is blatant and obvious. The Dagny Taggart’s and Hank Rearden’s of today are systematically ostracized while the bleating panderers of academia spout pacifism or appeasement and our elected representatives authorize more bread and circuses to buy votes. Rand’s warning fell on deaf ears.

Is it hard to see the imminent collapse of our economy? Is it too brutal to take the Rand vision as a truth, that we will see our towns in shambles, our transportation system grid-locked, our infrastructure crumbling, our creativity penalized, our entrepreneurship taxed out of the market and our basic culture destroyed?

So, if I’ve got this right, it looks as though we’ve got enough domestic oil potential to meet all of our needs for the next two hundred years. But, rather than authorize exploitation by private industry we are going to impose a wind-fall profits tax on the corporations? We could build safe nuclear power generation plants, cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce coal and natural gas consumption, but we won’t store nuclear waste in the deep salt caverns that we spent a billion dollars preparing to receive it? We could build modern refineries to get needed products from our available oil, lower prices and in the process create lots of new jobs, but we’re worried about wind-mills and solar panels which must be in someone else’s backyard? Excuse me for releasing a heartfelt, “Duh?”

The rising cost of jet fuel is crushing the economic viability of our airlines. Rather than a market driven, efficient, competitively priced, free-enterprise the bleaters are demanding re-regulation to improve safety (as though the airlines might think that unsafe transport is going to make them successful,) and to place unrealistic price controls on ticket costs. Airlines are going bankrupt, service is non-existent, routes are being cut (like that will make us well…) and consumer costs rise. Not a pretty picture there.

I anticipated a need this weekend to maybe make a trip from home in N. Texas for a collaboration visit with my co-author on the Robin Olds book in Steamboat Springs CO. There was, as I recalled a non-stop from DFW to Hayden CO, just a few miles down the road, which served the ski industry quite nicely bringing those wild and crazy Texans to the mountains to spend money and scare themselves on the slopes. Oops, no more direct flights to Hayden.

Now, the flight is a trip to Denver and then a regional into Hayden. Not really a problem, until it pops up that it’s $900 round trip. I could go to Paris non-stop from Dallas for less! Or, fly to Denver for about $700 less and then rent a car and drive five hours to the ‘Boat.

So, with Taggart Transcontinental Railroad planted firmly in my psyche, I thought I’d take a look at AmTrak. You know them. They are the federally run enterprise to “save” passenger rail travel in America. Comfortable, modern trains, criss-crossing the countryside, hauling folks without hassle as they relax, sip a cold beverage and admire a detailed view of this great country. An opportunity!

I went to the AmTrak web site. Found Gainesville TX, my nearest AmTrak stop and Steamboat Springs CO on their station list. Sorry, you can’t get there from here. I looked at all of the Colorado stations. Nearest I could get would be Denver. So, what would it take to get from here to there? Click, click, results. It would take four legs. Gainesville to Ft. Worth, then a twenty hour shot up to somewhere in mid-Illinois, with a fourteen hour layover, then a bus ride to another IL town, followed by a thirteen hour ride to Denver at which point I would be back to renting a car and driving the final leg. Total time at the mercy of AmTrak, just under 48 hours. Total bag-drags, six. Total time from Gainesville to Denver, 57 hours! That’s a long lunch short of five full days, each way! And it includes the not-easily acceptable assumption of making all connections on time—something AmTrak is not famous for.

Cost would be about $450 round-trip, provided I was willing to spend five days in a coach seat. If I wanted a sleeper for the two long hops, the cost quickly escalated over $1200. And that doesn’t include meals and the indignities of being cooped up at the mercy of a bureaucracy and sharing a crapper with a hundred folks exercising questionable hygiene for the duration. Ten days of travel to achieve a three day visit.

Where is Dagny Taggart when we need her?

Who is John Galt?

No comments: