The Grapes of Wrath vs Atlas Shrugged

the grapes of wrath vs atlas shruggedAfter reading the The Grapes of Wrath I went on to to mark it as read and stumbled upon a review that compared it with Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged“.  Having read both books myself I engaged in the conversation to share my views, which were contrary to the reviewers.  The discussion turned out an interesting debate so I decided to capture it here in my blog.  You can click here to the thread on Good Reads if you wanted to see the whole thing, but I have copied the last paragraph of Jason’s review and the discussion that followed below:

Jason wrote:

…….Which leads me to wonder… what would Ayn Rand think of all this? After all, aren’t labor unions and economic regulation precisely what she argues against? By that account, if Atlas Shrugged is the supposed Bible of right-wing thinkers, then I’d have to say that The Grapes of Wrath might just be its antithesis. But the real difference, as far as I can tell, is that while Atlas Shrugged represents a crazy woman’s vision of a whack job world that could never actually exist, John Steinbeck tells it like it is, and how it was, for so many hard working Americans who were taken advantage of under a system that did nothing to protect them. And what’s even more remarkable is that Steinbeck’s characters (whom, by the way, Rand would refer to as “moochers”—just thought we should be clear on that) make Dagny Taggart and Henry Reardon look like a couple of pussies. What is it Ma Joad says? That if you’re in trouble or hurt or need, to “go to poor people—for they’re the only ones that’ll help.”

This is a novel about the working poor, and it should serve to remind us what can go horribly wrong in an unregulated economy.

And so it began:

by Lisa

Lisa WainI have just finished The Grapes of Wrath and loved it. I have also read Atlas Shrugged, and also thought about the comparison of the flip side. I loved Atlas Shrugged as well and my interpretation is a little different to yours. I think Dagny Taggert and Henry Reardon would have given the Joad’s a good job for a fair days pay and I would never have called the Joad’s Moochers…..quiet the opposite in fact…way too proud to take money without first working for it.

JasonI might have been a little overreaching there. I agree the Joads are not moochers at all. It’s just that in their world, they suffer in a direct way from a lack of labor laws and inadequate regulation. I think if the Joads had their way, they’d be the first in line to vote for regulation to limit the power of the employer (which was clearly being abused), and it’s in this way that I mean they’d be considered moochers by Rand’s definition.

Lisa WainI agree Jason. I am sure the Joads would have voted for labor laws that benefit both the employee and the employer. Note the problems the smaller farmers were having trying to get their crops picked and still make a profit (which equals the farmers wages)with the still bigger guys dictating commodity prices. This problem is still alive today! The world needs business/land owners (capitalists as they are commonly known) and workers….there is no right or wrong…..greed is the problem, and not all capitalists are greedy, but how do you regulate greed? Fortunately life is not as black and white as it sometimes seems. 🙂

JasonLisa wrote: “…but how do you regulate greed?”

Exactly. I think this is the key point. I see what you’re saying about how the small landowners would also benefit from anti-collusion and anti-trust laws, but Rand’s bottom line is that there should be no regulation whatsoever (as any form of it is a figurative gun to the head). So you can see that in this case, obviously, some form of regulation is the only way to counter the greed.

I know the world isn’t back and white. But this is how Rand depicts her world in order to make her point (which is actually kind of extremist), and so I’m just using this novel as a counterargument. I think it works well because it shows the other side of the coin: the honest laborers who can never make it in this world because they can’t ever get a fair shake. Because I think that’s really what the outcome of Rand’s world would be.

Lisa Wain“Rand’s bottom line is that there should be no regulation whatsoever”

I would love to think that the world could function without regulation. The regulators didn’t help the Joad’s out too much, in fact they were the largest part of the problem. Increasingly it is being proven that the governments of the world cannot be trusted to make intelligent decisions and I believe we should all be striving as individuals to regulate our own lives and be rid of any sort of dependency on government.

I also don’t believe that all honest laborers have the ability (or the want) to “make it” in the business world. Horses for courses so to speak. I know a lot of people who are very happy to go to work each day, collect their pay at the end of the week, enjoy paid holiday and sick leave and have every weekend off. Employers/Business owners don’t always get such luxuries, and when they do it is usually after many years of blood, sweat and tears not to mention lower pay then their employees so they can pay mortgages and the added stress of a number of people depending on them to feed their families.

Business owners are a minority group, considering the number of employees, so it is easy for the “regulators” to swing the benefits toward the employees in a lot of cases. We all have rights, and that includes business owners, who are generally at work well before anyone else turns up and are still there when everyone else has long gone home. They generally pay a lot more taxes and (in Australia) act as collection agencies for the government as well.

I think if the honest laborers in this (western) world had the courage to take the risk and give it a go, they would soon find out that being the owner of the business is not all as glamorous as it looks from the other side of the coin, and they just might find out that they too can make it in this world if they were willing to put in the 10,15,20 years it takes to build a successful business that everyone else can be jealous of.

Again, as you highlighted, it is when success turns into greed that becomes the problem, but I believe that social responsibility is a growing trend with the big corporations, as it certainly has always been at the small to medium end of the scale.

Thanks for the discussion. As you can probably tell, I am a bit of an Ayn Rand fan. There are not too many people out there willing to argue for the other side.

P.S The real solution would be if we all owned a few acres and grew our own meat and vegetables to feed our families, the only work you needed to do would be on your own property and whatever was needed to stay alive and healthy, back to the way the Joad’s lived before being pushed off their farm. Alas, I think you would still find that some landowners would thrive while others failed and starved.

JasonOh, yes, I can tell you are a fan. 🙂 And I appreciate the discussion as well. It’s just that I don’t think we will ever see eye-to-eye on this particular point:

“Increasingly it is being proven that the governments of the world cannot be trusted to make intelligent decisions and I believe we should all be striving as individuals to regulate our own lives and be rid of any sort of dependency on government.”

I always fail to understand how having no regulation is inherently better than fixing broken regulation or some form thereof. To me, the response to “this solution isn’t working” should never be “so let’s get rid of the solution altogether.” That first sentence of yours is the scariest because I feel it’s too idealistic. I’d love to think a lot of things would/should/could happen, but it doesn’t mean that they will just by wanting it to. And I think the point of TGOW is that there were no regulators, so I don’t know what you mean about their being a part of the problem. To me it was thelack of regulation that led to collusion and lower wages, unemployment, loss of business, etc. Not the other way around.

Also, I think the idea that corporations can and should govern themselves (you allude to social responsibility being a growing trend) is frightening, too. I think it puts too much power and freedom at the fingertips of those most susceptible to the allure of greed. It’s like dangling a cupcake in front of a fat kid and trusting him not to grab it when you aren’t looking.

by Lisa
Lisa WainI just had a great rebuttal typed out…with so many good points….but there was an error when I went to post it….DARN IT! I should have copied it before posting 😦

And so that was the end of that.  It made for an interesting debate, and I still totally disagree with Jason’s point of view, but at the end of the day it is exactly these differences that make us unique and keeps life interesting.

Until next time 🙂

About Lisa Wain

Observer, explorer, ponderer, authentic, direct, independent, confident, open-minded, love a challenge and a good conversation.
This entry was posted in Book Review, SME and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Grapes of Wrath vs Atlas Shrugged

  1. assortedanomalies says:

    I haven’t read The grapes of wrath but i kind of get the point. I believe no matter what what you need regulators. Hank Rearden and Dagny might not be the people who make lives of Joads difficult but lets face it if your regulaors are anything like SEC(lehman Bros). you are in for big trouble. Rand also wrote about an impossible world. people like that can’t exist and nothing is ideal .
    More on this if you are interested :

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