I was listening to a new podcast this week. The Financial Mechanic, one of my favorite voices in the FIRE movement, was talking about how she wanted to create a FIRE utopia for people who had achieved fire. I immediately got a giant pit in my stomach. “A utopia for high achieving people who decided to check-out of the workforce? Yes, I believe it is called Galt’s Gulch.” It caused me to question whether the FIRE movement is just Atlas Shrugged in real life.
Atlas Shrugged, for those of you who haven’t read it is a 1,000+ manifesto for Ayn Rand’s form of libertarian politics called “Objectivism.” It is the tale of a dystopia where bright young people voluntary leave the economy to live in their own utopia.
On the surface, there are a lot of similarities between the FIRE movement and Atlas Shrugged. But I can’t accept that a movement I’m a part of, and made up by such great people would result in the bleak world that Rand presents.
The FIRE movement *is* Atlas Shrugged
Okay, let’s just start with the obvious.
- In Atlas Shrugged, the winners of capitalism decide they are sick of the rat-race and get out of Dodge.
- The FIRE movement is made up of people who have invested enough money to end working and leave the workforce.
I think it’s just important to acknowledge that the closest thing we have, in literature, to the FIRE movement is a very depressing world where everything falls apart and no one has one damned ounce of compassion for anyone else. I know the people in the FIRE movement, and don’t think this will happen (keep reading). But still, it’s not a great look.
Who are the winners?
- In Atlas Shrugged the winners of capitalism congratulated themselves for being smart and pulling themselves up from their bootstraps. However, many of them had family connections that cemented their positions as CEOs or industry leaders.
- In the FIRE movement, there are many voices that say they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.
Depending on which blogs you read, you may think that anyone can achieve FIRE. And that the reason you haven’t achieved FIRE yet is because you’re lazy and have bad spending habits. However, I know there are plenty of great bloggers who speak to the role of privilege in achieving FIRE. (And one of my first posts was my own take on that subject.) I feel like this is a point where the FIRE movement can sometimes feel like Atlas Shrugged, but is not universally applicable to everyone in the FIRE movement.
The side hustles
- In Atlas Shrugged the elites leave the economy. However, in their utopia, they mint their own currency and pay each other for everything rather than freely sharing resources. Even though they have A PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINE and therefore have unlimited, free resources.*
- In the FIRE movement it seems like everyone has side hustles. (And sometimes we even work for other people in the movement!)
This was one of the saddest parts of the book in my reflection. The elites move to a utopia where all of their needs are provided for. Instead sharing their abundance freely among themselves, they immediately start charging each other money for goods and services.
Isn’t the whole point of utopia that there is so much abundance that you can afford to be generous? I don’t fault anyone in the FIRE movement for having side hustles. (In fact I have my own side hustle). And I’m happy to exchange money with blogging peers for help. But sometimes when I hear about the personal finance community, I have flashbacks to Galt’s Gulch.
The FIRE movement *is not* Atlas Shrugged
Despite the similarities, I’m sure the FIRE movement is going to result in a giant dystopian future.
The people of FIRE
Unlike the heroes (anti-heroes?) in Atlas Shrugged, the FIRE movement is made up of some really compassionate people. For example, when someone ended up in hospice recently, there was a giant outpouring of people donating meals to the family.
I can’t imagine Midas Mulligan baking a tater-tot casserole for Dagny Taggart if she had a baby. But perhaps that’s just me.
And it’s not just food. I’ve had so many helpful conversations with other bloggers about how to enable certain Worpdress features. (I know it’s hard to tell by looking at this dumpsterFIRE of a blog sometimes). But really, the FIRE movement has some really kind, compassionate souls in it. (Especially looking at you Penny and Josh!) So even if all of the FIRE movement people left their communities and moved into a giant compound somewhere, I can’t imagine that the community would function like Galt’s Gulch.
While most of this post focused on the inner psychology of people within the FIRE movement and Atlas Shrugged, I think I can’t help but point out another giant difference.
- In Atlas Shrugged, the world falls apart without the contributions of the winners of capitalism.
- In the FIRE movement, nobody’s company falls apart after they quit.
I haven’t everyone’s story about leaving their company. However, I have read a lot of blogs. And I haven’t seen any stories about major companies falling apart because someone stopped ironing his shirts and headed to the beach.
As much as we like thinking we’re irreplaceable parts of our companies (or Governments #OnBrand), the fact is that we are replaceable. While no one will be able to replace our interpersonal relationships, our employers will eventually find a replacement that does more or less what we did. Things will keep moving.
*Of all of the crazy things in that book, Galt’s motor is the thing that upsets me off the most. I am not certain about much in the world. But I draw the line at violating the second law of thermodynamics.
What do YOU think? Is the FIRE movement living out Atlas Shrugged? Leave a comment!
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