PREVIOUSLY: With the global economy trapped in a death spiral of exhausted resources, governments everywhere have taken the opportunity to expand their power and radically restrict individual freedom in the name of preserving society from collapse. It’s going poorly.
In the shadow of the Washington Monument, everyone’s favorite evil cabal of corporatists and politicians have met to conspire some more. Besides the usual triumvirate of Taggart Boyle and Mouch, there are three notable attendees: Dr. Ferris, shameless sociopath of the State Science Institute; Fred Kinnan, head of America’s largest labor union; and POTUS himself, a man named Thompson, a complete political chameleon whose greatest electoral asset is his Generic Anglo-Saxon Face*cough*Romney*cough*.
Anyway the current item on the agenda is a drastic measure they have clearly all been anticipating with some trepidation. It is a proposal to stop the economic contraction by freezing growth at 0%. Prices and wages will be fixed at their current levels indefinitely; strict quotas will be placed on all production and consumption to match prior year amounts; any and all hiring and firing decisions must be approved by the state.
POTUS Not-Romney authorizes Mouch to write the executive order, then ducks out before the horse-trading can commence, presumably for plausible deniability reasons.
The order will be carried out by a new, all-powerful Unification Board. Kinnan the Labor Guy forces Mouch stack it with his men. He also proposes a jobs bill where the government just forces companies to increase the number of people on their payroll to 133% of current employment. Orren Boyle is like “That makes no sense.” Kinnon is like “None of this makes sense, so shut up and deal with it.” Fuck this is so stupid. I’ll give Kinnan this though, he’s not a bullshitter. He’s a cynic who knows these guys are poking more holes in a sinking ship, and he intends to hoard as many lifeboats for his people as he can, but he has no illusions about this being in the public good.
Taggart Boyle & Mouch, on the other hand, the three who set this whole chain of dominoes in motion, are panicky wrecks by contrast. They drank their own Kool-Aid and now they seem kind of appalled that it’s come to this. They shriek about how it isn’t their fault and they have no choice, and Kinnan finds it darkly amusing and the comfortably amoral Ferris is just smug.
Mouch reviews the list of policies they’re about to enact. On top of the economic controls mentioned above, all new inventions will be outlawed; R&D will be conducted by State Science only. No new writing shall be published, and all patents and copyrights will be signed over to the government by the holders through ‘voluntary Gift Certificates.’ This last bullet point strikes them as the most unrealistic and legally dicey of all the things on this list, even though patents and copyrights are government-issued to begin with and literally every other thing they mentioned is utterly insane.
The conspirators nonetheless believe they can get all the remaining patent-holders to relinquish their rights without much of a fight, as long as they can get Rearden to surrender rMetal to them. Jim mentions that he has some dirt on Rearden that should make this objective achievable. In exchange he extracts from Mouch a legal rate hike for Transcon trains. Thank god the real halls of power don’t run on shady quid pro quos, right?
The power players all feel the weight of the moment in solitary shame, and Jim lowers the blinds so they don’t have to look at the Washington Monument taunting them from the window as they sign away all of America’s founding freedoms.
One morning some weeks later, Dagny wakes up on the couch in her office and orders her secretary to get her a newspaper while she gets back to her paperwork. Everybody is walking on eggshells and she doesn’t know why, until Average Eddie Willers brings her the Times and she sees the news about America’s shiny new communist government, which was announced today, don’tcha know.
Her body drains of feeling and without conscious thought she marches to Jim’s office, throws the paper in his face and calls it her resignation letter. She tells Eddie she intends to get her Ron Swanson on and will shortly leave for a remote cabin in the Berkshires that’s been in the family for some generations. Nobody should be allowed to contact her, she tells Eddie, except for Hank Rearden.
Speaking of whom, she calls Hank and lets him know what’s what. Hank has adopted a pretty Zen, resigned attitude to this whole situation by now, and with two weeks letft until the patent-surrender certificates are due, he intends to see things through to the end. Go down with the ship, as it were, like a true captain (of industry).
To that end, one morning, two weeks later, Hank awaits the arrival of the feds at his office to coerce a signature from him. But it is Dr. Ferris, all by his lonesome, who shows up relishing the opportunity to corner Hank after his last failed attempt. They establish once again that Ferris is a self-aware villain who takes pride in his venal, relativistic philosophy, thinks it’s the way of the future.
Ferris bluntly explains that he is blackmailing Rearden with lots of photos and hotel room records proving his now two-year long affair with Dagny. He got them from Jim, who got them from Lillian. Hank realizes that his godforsaken wife has taken advantage of even the slightest pity he showed for her, that she and these totalitarian thugs share a standard operating procedure of exploiting the virtuous to sustain the vicious. And though Hank long ago gave up feeling guilty about his sham marriage and satisfyingly adulterous sex life, he realizes it would be unjust of him to make a self-righteous stand here if all the cost will be borne by Dagny, whose reputation will be ruined.
So he reflects on the very first time he met Dagny, and how they both sensed their chemistry, and how guilty and repressed he was about it at the time, and how clearly he can see the moral landscape now, and without a moment’s hesitation or regret he signs all his rights to rMetal away. It is henceforth to be called OurMetal and its production will be managed by
Big Brother the Unification Board.
Welcome, Ferris’ smile seems to say, to the Fascistic States of America.