Ayn Rand is my favorite author, and I’m sure she’s yours too. Who else can successfully combine cheesy bodice-ripper romantic subplots with under-edited screeds that can go on for ten thousand words? Add in her Trump-like failure to grasp basic economics, her “let
them eat cake” hardnosed pragmatism, and a large helping of discredited 1920’s racist eugenics and you’ve got a winner. Of course, Hollywood has struggled to turn her epics into movies, since it’s the heartless capitalists who are the heroes of her works and the widows and orphans (a.k.a. blood-sucking parasites) who are the villains. That’s hard to cast (unless you’re going straight to Blu-Ray)
There is just one tiny flaw.
The hero of Atlas Shrugged, by far Rand’s longest novella at 1,112 pages (first edition), is the kind of sexy-strong can-do take-charge woman with a sexy-strong can-do take-charge made-up Aryan name (“Dagny”) that I’m usually rooting for. BUT. She runs an American railroad. She runs a free-market healthy-competition, not-a-monopoly-or-state-funded-boondoggle American
railroad. She might as well just put on her invisibility cloak, wave her wand, and transform her trains into the Hogwarts Express, because I find the world of Harry Potter to be much more believable.
Amtrak is now our nation’s only major railroad. Has been, for years. They piss and moan that they are so bad because they aren’t being funded, and this is probably true. But, once upon a time, railroads were the transportation of choice. That was before the U.S. threw its lot in with the auto industry. Once the die was cast, our vast national wealth went into building highways, bridges, and tunnels for the car. Trucks move our goods now, and cars move our bodies. Amtrak is left to its own devices as the least-bad (and only) option serving the desirable niche market consisting of folks who are paralyzed by fear of flying, don’t have a drivers license, hate the bus, and must get from New York City to Montreal in a mere 12 hours.
How bad is Amtrak? Pretty bad. According to the Times, they haven’t been repairing tracks when they really shoulda oughta. Local commuters in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, Connecticut) depend on trains that use these very same tracks. Our commuter lines run
better than Amtrak (because how could they be worse?), and they are reliable — constant commuter whinging to the contrary. Without the LIRR and Metro North, property values would plunge throughout the burbs like … like …something heavy that plunges and is probably made out of lead. Whenever the commuter trains shut down, hell ensues.
How ironic, then, that the very symbol of vital capitalist nation-building chosen by our Ms. Rand is now the very symbol of sickly state-supported dysfunction. How would Ayn fix this mess? Well, she wouldn’t, because she was a bad author with a cult following, a taste for young man-flesh, and a history of barely-disguised hypocrisy. How would an economist
solve this? Probably by giving tax breaks to railroads, putting money into infrastructure for trains, giving financial incentives to resurrect some of the old lines around the country (like from Grand Central to all those college towns upstate), and then making it easier for people to ride trains and harder for them to take the car (subsidized rail passes, increased gas taxes, urban congestion taxes, and so on.) It certainly has worked in other places (Europe, Japan, China.)
But not here. Here, we continue to give lots of tax breaks to the auto industries and the industries supporting them. We continue to look towards the sprawling suburb as our model of living instead of the rural/urban split (cars in the country, but then you take the train to the city). We give a trickle of funding to the wienies who run Amtrak, and make excuses when they give us trains that take 12 hours to get from NYC to Montreal when you can drive it in 5.
Of course Amtrak isn’t making money! They don’t deserve to.