2:2 The Aristocracy of Pull cont’d, “Chasing Paper”

PREVIOUSLY: At Jim & Cheryl Taggart’s wedding reception, all the guests schmoozed for nakedly self-interested purposes of political networking, all while disingenuously praising Jim for his selfless progressive beliefs. Then Francisco D’Anconia showed up to stir the pot.

Upon Frankie’s entrance Jim gets all flustered and antagonistic, asking what Frisco is doing there a little too disdainfully. Francisco ignores it, insists on meeting the bride and chiding Jim’s manners. He treats Cheryl with extreme etiquette and deference, which is theoretically admirable, although he also seems motivated by the chance to humiliate Jim. So, two birds.

"Patience, ladies and gentlemen, I will get around to mocking all of you." -Frank D.

Francisco continues acting all facetiously chummy, thanking Jim for becoming his largest stockholder this past year. Jim is taken aback that he knows, since he invested under a number of shell companies and dummy corporations. But Francisco has kept close track of his stockholders and noticed that pretty much all of Washington’s most powerful people and the nation’s biggest political donors have been discreetly concentrating their capital in D’Anconia copper. After all, as the world’s oldest multinational it has been the safest bet in a global marketplace that’s been rocked by energy shortages and political interference.

So basically because Francisco was already at the very top of the 1%, he has become the primary beneficiary of the crony capitalism that Jim and his ilk love to practice through no effort of his own. For this, Frank promises Jim that his investment in D’Anconia will pay off handsomely, and then leaves to flirt wistfully with Dagny.

While Francisco’s arrival has momentarily lifted Dagny’s sour mood, her conscious efforts to wall herself off from him emotionally come rushing back when he invites her to gloat about the success of her innovative rMetal railroad. She tells him she is simply hurt that he’s sunk so low as to ‘despise achievement.’

Meanwhile, Rearden watches Francisco as he makes the rounds and feels his man-crush growing. Nobody can resist the charms of Frankie D!

Some social dilletante asks Frank what he thinks will happen to the world as industrial civilization consumes itself to exhaustion. Francisco says the world will get exactly what it deserves. If Ayn didn’t loathe mysticism I’d almost describe this faith in moral law as karmic. In fact I just did.

"Doom, DOOM, DOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!"

But this assessment upsets the guests, who mostly wanted to hear that everything’s going to be okay. Somebody says not to take Francisco seriously — money is the root of all evil and Francisco is ‘the typical product of money.’

At this dismissal, Francisco lets his frivolous facade lapse more than we have ever seen and launches into a passionate defense of money as the root of all good, and Fuck You for thinking otherwise. This, by the way, is the perfect example of Ayn’s abuse of the Law of the Excluded Middle

What Francisco is really defending here is a moral code. Money just happens to be its totem. He praises aspiration and perspiration as good in themselves. He praises the voluntary exchange of value for value as the proper ideal for human relationships. He praises honesty in negotiation as the foundation of civilized interaction. All of which is persuasive enough. Then he claims that money by its very nature incentivizes mankind to live up to this honorable morality, which is a significantly more dubious claim to say the least.

Hard money for some, miniature American flags for others.

Oh, he also throws in a little goldbuggery for whatever nonsense reason. Besides coming off as tangential at best, it’s stupidly anachronistic, like being nostalgic for mercantilism or something. You’re getting incoherent here Aynie and I’d appreciate if you didn’t do it through the mouth of the best character. ‘Kay thanks bye.

Anyway, yes, Francisco is basically saying that your bank account is like a karmic scorecard, with the caveat that it isn’t that money bestows virtue upon its possessor. Rather, it is a tool that demands of its owner a certain standard of virtue. It is made by those who earn it, kept by those who deserve it, and lost by those who fail it. Which, again… let’s put it this way. In the words of Ernie Hemingway, “isn’t it pretty to think so?”

How did we ever get this far without a "Greed is Good" screencap?

This sermon on mammonism ends on the grandiose note that since over the long term money is an accurate measure of karmic justice, any society that vilifies money will inevitably crumble, for that society vilifies its own ‘life-blood,’ and the bank accounts and investment portfolios of that society will eventually retain only the balances that reflect their owners’ true moral worth.

The assembled audience is deeply unsettled by Francisco’s speech. Probably from all the apocalyptic, ‘righteous vengeance’ overtones. Someone scoffs that this is a wildly inappropriate conversation to have at a wedding. Which it is.

But Rearden is eating it all up like a capitalist pig at a nutritionally dubious trough. He finds Francisco at the nearest opportunity and confesses his bromantic intentions with uncomfortably earnest hetero-flirting.

“Remember when we first met you expressed gratitude to me?” Hank says. “Well I want you to know that now I’m grateful to you. I’ve been waiting to hear a speech like that my entire life.” But, as always, his respect for Francisco’s brilliance only makes Francisco’s wasteful lifestyle all the more apalling. Rearden asks Frankie how he can live with his own hypocrisy.

"Don't be a puppet for The Man, man!" -Frank to Hank

Francisco says he isn’t a hypocrite. He actually exemplifies his own point — he has been a worthless playboy for years, and unbeknowst to all of his inside-trading investors the consequences of that behavior are about to be revealed. You see, Frank has finally returned to day-to-day management, but ‘apparently’ his expertise has ‘atrophied’ in the last decade. As a result, vast swaths of D’Anconia Copper’s holdings are about to break down or go belly up.

This news will hit the press and the markets tomorrow morning, by the way, and all of the corrupt, money-laundering guests at this wedding will wake up with their fortunes decimated because of his supposed incompetence.

Rearden cracks up laughing, even as he feels disturbed by his own giddy adrenaline rush at the news. Holy shit, this guy is some kind of insane evil genius! he realizes. D’Anconia must be some kind of economic terrorist, like Ellis Wyatt. And Hank is equal parts repulsed and compelled by this growing radicalism.

Yet Francisco made sure to stay subtle and subtextual with his admission that he deliberately plotted this impending economic disaster, such that Hank realizes it but all those who are inevitably eavesdropping on their banter only catch wind that Francisco fucked up and the stock of D’Anconia Copper is about to crater… just like Francisco wanted.

"If your net worth is about to plummet, make some noooiiiise!"

The scuttlebutt ripples throughout the reception hall and Rearden can see it manifest physically in the chaotic shifts of people’s body language. In a matter of minutes the crowd has become an undignified mob racing to reach the payphones find cell reception, the better to call their brokers and command them to sell, sell, sell everything!

The trigger pulled on his latest financial suicide-bomb, Francisco scans the room. Only he, Dagny, and Rearden are left, all exchanging looks. Frank himself is grimly satisfied. Dagny is nonplussed. Rearden is conflicted.

“So, look, I’m just throwing this out there,” he says. “What are your guys’ thoughts on menage a trois?” 

NEXT — 2:3 White Blackmail, “Shrug, Atlas, Shrug”

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