On using magic as a critique of the world: Ayn Rand and math

Ayn Rand “math”: Rearden Metal is cheaper per pound than iron. One of the major components of Rearden Metal is copper.  It is not used in trace amounts, but requires hundreds of tons of the stuff for thousands of tons of Rearden Metal.  In other words, Rearden Metal is at least 10% copper – and maybe more.

Cost of iron, per pound: $0.004 per pound.

Cost of copper, per pound: between $0.55 and $1.95 per pound, depending on quality.

Copper is literally hundreds to thousands of times more expensive than iron.  Since copper is at least 10% of Rearden Metal, there are literally no scenarios under which Rearden Metal is cheaper than steel.

Rearden Metal *also* requires furnaces to run at 4000 degrees F, when they normally run at about 2000 degrees F. This takes new large scale capital investment to shape the metal, and at temps climb, the energy costs soar.

So, not only is Rearden Metal more expensive than steel, it is also more expensive to work.

Is it nitpicking to point out how absurd all of this is? To me, no. Rand is trying to write a trenchant critique of actual business, government, and society. If she was just writing a fantasy, well, I probably wouldn’t care. I might not like the book due to its ridiculous characters, but she’s proposing that physically impossible things are, somehow, a critique of society.

So, sure, if business people were miracle workers like Jesus Christ, yes, business sure would be different, and society would have to operate differently. So, yes, if people believed in capitalism and it gave them magical power, we would have to take that into account. But capitalism doesn’t do that.

To propose your magical miracle workers – and lowering the cost of copper to 1/1000th its price is exactly the same kind of miracle when Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fish and loaves of bread – to argue your economic system is superior to the ones we’ve got is FUCKING CRAZY.  It is contrary to reality.

Anti-empiricism is one of the absolute hallmarks of Ayn Rand’s works.

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