Chapter 20: The Sign of the Dollar
As Dagny looks out the window of the Taggart Comet, she sees the products of money--or, rather, the remnants of money. The closed factories, the conveniences--a beaten up car, an ice cream parlor--simple luxuries allowed only by the once-existence of the factories. They are remnants of an age when the sustenance of one's life had not been made a crime, when money was still pure. They won't last.
Knowing that she can't stand the sight alone, Dagny heads towards the train diner. On her way, she meets a tramp about to be kicked off the train. The tramp, despite his beaten-up jacket, holds an air of dignity about him, and she offers him board as a guest in her car. The tramp is Jeff Allen, a shop-foreman in the Twentieth Century Motor Company.
Allen tells Dagny of the insiders perspective of the fall of the company. How practically everyone had voted for the plan for "each to work to the best of his ability, to each the extent of his need." How anyone who disagreed with it would be deemed as base as a child-killer. How the real reason why people agreed to it was that they saw only the people above them--how they could loot from them--and forgot about everyone below who would leech ichor from them.
It was how the happiness of the producers was not deemed a "need" and was thus sacrificed for petty deeds, such as braces for an ugly girl's teeth to raise her self-esteem. It was how the producers are punished when the company's productivity declined. It was how the producers started hiding their ability to avoid punishment. Need claimed ability, above all, and by right of the majority--by vote--one could not gauge one's own ability.
It was how "the man who never could" capitalized on the concept of the "needy"--how they mulched as much as they could, bringing every relative they knew in as a "dependent," becoming obscenely promiscuous to sire babies to further their list of human dependents--the fellow needy part of the looter's keep.
It was about the good man being forced to become bad. The good man, enchained by their negating virtue, would feel ashamed of every mouthful of food he took, thinking that it could have gone to a more needful purpose--how anything they use is not as needed as when someone else could use it. People began hating friends for having babies--it would take more from the "company family" than the collective could afford; every dependent meant another drain.
But, really, it was about the hypocrisy of the proprietors--the Starnes heirs. Of Eric, the Director of Public Relations, who wanted undeserved love, and thought that by reminding everyone (the untruth) that he gave them the factory, they would love him. Of Gerald, who pranced around in exorbitant riches, claiming his profligate spendings was for the need of the public image of the company--at a time when workers had to sacrifice their favorite pasttimes and forms of amusement, when they couldn't afford to send their children to college. Of Ivy, the Director of Distribution, who dictated who is classified as the "needy" and who as the "punished"--a mutually exclusive dichotomy whose gauge is nothing but the illegitimacy of bootlicking: Ivy would punish those she doesn't like and award those who kiss up to her. Playing god when she didn't have the creative power in her to run the company without the men she punishes, she adhered to the creed of "Those whom I choose to live lives," thereby choosing the death of the company... and issuing the death warrent to the motor of the world.
While the communistic microcosm of the Twentieth Century Motor Company might be an extreme, it does hold analogies with the world at large at this point in time in Atlas Shrugged. The heroes have already realized that the villains used what is good in them, attempting to shackle them with negating moralities to hide the fact from them. This is, in essence, similar to what the Twentieth Century Motor Company's demise can be summarized as: To work with no chance of seeing or receiving any of the goods of one's work, to work without nourishment, to punished if one doesn't work... the moral law has become the credo to work until the death for the needy--not oneself.
When the train stops to become another frozen train, Dagny lapses its span to find someone to run it. She finds Kellogg, who had been a passenger. They walk down the tracks to find a phone to summon up a crew. (Why didn't they just unhook the engine car and save a bit of walking and time?)
Along the way, they have a conversation of money when Dagny sees "the sign of the dollar" imprinted on Kellogg's box of cigarettes--costing five cents in a pure gold standard. It is something Dagny's inflation-infested money in this world deprecated by looters cannot buy, because it represents an idea that is pure and good but is no longer regarded as one by the mortals on this earth. The sign of the dollar is the emblem of the US, its symbol the monogram of the U and the S.
The US is the only country in the world where money is not gained by force or loot, but by trade--free trade, of mutual benefit; the sign of the dollar is the symbol of man's mind, his right to his own work, his life, his happiness. Owen boldly states that if the sign is now a brand of evil, then people such as himself will accept it and choose to be damned by the world--but they'll wear it as a badge of honor and fight for it to the death.