Atlas Shrugged

The following is an excerpt from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.





Must Give Value for Value

So you think that money is the root of all evil. Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced, and there are men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must do so by trade, and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?
When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so on the conviction that you will be able to exchange it for the products of the effort of others. It is neither the moochers nor the looters who give value to money. Neither an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should really be gold, are a token of honor – your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on the moral principle that is the root of money. Is this what you consider evil?


Wealth Is the Product of Man’s Capacity to Think

Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric motor and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover how to do it for the first time. Try to grow food by means of nothing but physical motions – and you’ll learn that it is man’s mind that is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.
But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak. What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Does it follow, then, that money made by the inventor of the motor is at the expense of others who invented nothing? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? Or by the able, at the expense of the lazy? Money is made – before it can be looted or mooched – by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.


Every Man is the Owner of His Mind and His Efforts

To trade by means of money is the code of men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his efforts. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort, except by the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to exchange the fruits of his effort with you. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and labor what they are worth to men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the free judgment of traders. Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not their injury; for their gain, not their loss – the recognition that they are not beasts of burden born to carry the weight of your misery – that you must offer them value, not wounds – that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they have to offer, but the best money can find. And when men live by trade – with reason, not force, as their final arbiter – it is the best product that wins, and the best performance. It is the man of best judgment and highest ability that wins, and his reward is commensurate with his productivity. This is the code of coexistence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?


The Scourge of Men Who Attempt to Reverse the Law of Causality

But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of men who attempt to reverse the law of causality – men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind.
Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants. Money will not give him a code of values if he’s evaded the knowledge of what to value. It will not provide him with a purpose if he’s evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, thus trying to replace judgment with money, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered, that no man may be smaller than his money. Is this the reason why you call it evil?


Money Will Not Serve the Mind That Cannot Match It

Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth – the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. But you look on and cry that money has corrupted him. Has it? Or has he corrupted money? Do not envy a worthless heir: his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it should have been distributed among your cronies: loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one would not bring back the dead virtue embodied by the fortune. Money is a living power that dies without its root. Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it. Is this the reason why you call it evil?


Money As a Means of Survival

Money is your means of survival. The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men’s vices or their stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than you deserve? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise, for others you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment’s joy or a penny’s worth of happiness. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you but a reproach; not an achievement but a reminder of shame. Then you’ll scream that money is evil. Evil, because it will not pander to your self-respect? Evil, because it would not let you enjoy your depravity? Is this the root of your hatred of money?


Money Is Always an Effect with You As the Cause

Money will always remain an effect and refuse to replace you as the cause. Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you virtue and will not redeem your vices. Money will not give you the unearned, whether in matter or in spirit. Is this the root of your hatred of money?
Or do you mean that it’s the love of money that’s the root of all evil? To love a thing is to know and love its nature. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the product of the best powers within you, and your pass-key to trade your effort for the efforts of the very best among men. It’s the person who would sell his soul for a nickel, who is the loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money – and he has good reason to hate it, too. The lovers of money are willing to work for it. They know that they deserve it. Let me give you this rule of thumb: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.


The Only Substitute for Gold Money is the Muzzle of the Gun

Run for your life from anyone who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter. So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal with one another -their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of the gun.


When Coercion Is the Standard, Murderers Win over Pickpockets

But money demands of you the highest virtue, if you wish to make it or keep it. Men who have no courage, pride, or self-esteem, men who have no moral sense of their right to their money, and are not willing to defend it as they would defend their life, men who apologize for being rich – will not remain rich for long. They are the natural bait for swarms of looters that stay under the rocks for centuries, but come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will hasten to relieve him of his guilt, and of his life – just as he deserves.
Then you see the rise of men of a double standard – men who live by force yet count on those who live by trade to create value to back their looted money – hitch-hikers of virtue. In a moral society these are criminals, and statues are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law – men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims – then money becomes its creator’s avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they’ve passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters who get it from them the way they’ve got it from you. Then the race gets under way, and the prize goes, not to the ablest at production, but to the most ruthless at brutality. When coercion is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then society vanishes in a spread of ruin and slaughter.


Money Is the Barometer of Society’s Virtue

Do you want to know whether that day is coming? Watch money. Money is the barometer of society’s virtue. When you see that trading is done not by consent but by compulsion – when you see that in order to produce you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing – when you see that money is flowing to those who deal not in goods but in favors – when you see that men get rich more easily by graft than by work, and your laws no longer protect you against them, but protect them against you – when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice – then you will know that your society is doomed. Gold is so noble a medium that it does not compete with guns and does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half property, half loot.


Paper Money Is Mortgage on Wealth That Doesn’t Exist

Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying gold money, for it is man’s protection, and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold is an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper money is mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by guns aimed at those who are expected to produce. Paper money is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: “account overdrawn”.
When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and to become fodder for the immoral. Do not expect them to produce when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask who is destroying the world. You are.


Where Wealth Is Obtained by Conquest There Is Little to Conquer

You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization and you wonder why it’s crumbling around you while you are damning its life-blood – money. Throughout man’s history money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, whose names changed, but whose methods remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves – slaves who repeated motions discovered long before by someone’s mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production is ruled by force and wealth is obtained by conquest, there is little to conquer. Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised producers as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers – as industrialists.


The Country of Money

To the glory of mankind there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money – and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time man’s mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being – the self-made man – the American industrialist.


The Essence of Morality

If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose – because it contains all the others – the fact that they were the people who created the phrase “to make money”. No other language or nation has ever used this combination of words before; men have always thought of wealth as a static quantity – to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth must be created. The phrase “to make money” holds the essence of morality.
Yet these were words for which the Americans were denounced by the rotten cultures of the looters’ continents. Now the looters’ credo has brought you to regard your proudest achievements as a hallmark of shame, your prosperity as guilt, your greatest men, the industrialists, as blackguards, and your magnificent factories as the product and property of muscular labor, the labor of whip-driven slaves, no better than the pyramids of Egypt. The rotter who simpers that he sees no difference between the power of gold and the power of the whip, ought to learn the difference on his own hide – as I think he will.


Blood, Whips, and Guns – or Gold

Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns – or gold. Take your choice there is no other and your time is running out.



 

 

 

 

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, New York (Random House) 1957, pp 410-415
(slightly edited, title and captions added).

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