Midas Mulligan

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Michael "Midas" Mulligan (fl. 2007-), in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was a banker, operating originally in Chicago, Illinois but subsequently in the community known variously as Mulligan's Valley and Galt's Gulch. He joined the strike of the men of the mind called by John Galt after he lost a loan-discrimination lawsuit brought by a loan applicant whose application he had denied.[1]

Spoiler warning
This article contains important plot information

Contents

Background

Remarkably, the novel provides ample background to Michael Mulligan in comparison to other characters. A banker by trade, Michael Mulligan actually had his name changed legally to "Midas" after his critics tagged him with that reference to the (perhaps) mythical King Midas. He developed a reputation for profiting after taking tremendous business risks, and some suggested that he was gambling. He replied thus:

The reason why you will never become rich is that you actually think that what I am doing is gambling.

Midas Mulligan did not gamble. He assessed risk, and did so using methods that were both more sensitive and more specific than those that his competitors used.

But the actual reason why his reputation suffered was not his "high-risk" methods, but rather the risks that he did not take. Specifically, he regarded banking as a business, and ran his bank like one. His critics seemed to prefer that he run his bank as a charity, or at least to make certain loans pro bono, just as and for the same reason that lawyers often argue cases pro bono.

Midas rejected such a policy as irresponsible. A banker does not own all of the money at his disposal at any given time; he owes an obligation to his depositors, as well as to any stockholders and partners he might have. A banker borrows short (by accepting money on deposit, money that a depositor may in theory withdraw on demand) and lends long (by making loans that are not always subject to instant recall and typically are made for a specified term). Such activity entails inherent risk, and this is why bankers typically require more interest (literally, a rent for money) than they pay to their depositors. Sadly, in the novel as is so often the case in real life, Midas Mulligan's critics never understood these realities, and continued to portray him as a mean-spirited, heartless money miser.

Amalgamated Service Co. v. Mulligan

In March of 2011, Lee Hunsacker, who had had a very poor record as a businessman, and several other men formed the Amalgamated Service Company to purchase and re-activate the factory of the defunct Twentieth Century Motor Company in Starnesville, in the neighboring State of Wisconsin. Amalgamated Service applied to the Mulligan Bank for the capital loan to buy the factory. The Twentieth Century was a poor prospect to begin with. Though its founder, Gerald "Jed" Starnes, had built the company into a very successful firm, he had then died, and his heirs who took it over, ran it into the ground within four years. Midas Mulligan might not have known the full particulars of that company's history, but he would certainly know enough from his own investigation, as would be an elementary requirement of "due diligence."

The prior record of the company itself was less disquieting to Midas than was the business record of the men behind Amalgamated Service. Lee Hunsacker, in particular, had previously tried to run a company that made paper containers, but his customers had deserted him—and instead of examining his product to see how he might improve it to meet customer demand and expectation, he blamed the customers for "lack of cooperation."

Midas refused the loan. In his refusal, Mulligan told Hunsacker that his business record made him an extremely bad prospect for running a vegetable pushcart, much less a large factory that employed six thousand people. The other owners of Amalgamated Service did not impress Midas Mulligan much better.

Hunsacker, furious at the refusal, filed suit against Mulligan. He made a claim that the narrative describes as "discrimination." As nearly as a close read of the text reveals, Hunsacker alleged that he met the same qualifications for a business loan, including the required security, as did any other businessman, and Mulligan had no grounds to refuse.

Judge Narragansett, the trial judge in the case, made a jury charge that was perhaps a direct call for jury nullification. He dwelt heavily on the poor prospects of Lee Hunsacker and his partners, and stressed certain elementary principles of freedom of association that he considered more important than any non-discrimination statute.

The jury found for Midas, but Hunsacker appealed. The most likely outcome that one may infer is that the appellate court remanded the case for judgment, but not to Judge Narragansett's court, on the grounds that Narragansett's jury charge was improper. The case was retried before this second (never-named) judge, and that jury found for Hunsacker and his partners.

The strike

Midas was outraged, as one might expect. Perhaps he was already thinking that if he could not run his bank as he saw fit, and take only the risks that he saw fit to take, then he might as well not be in banking at all. But what he saw in his mind was worse than that. As he would later explained, he suddenly remembered the day he lent money to Henry Rearden when he first bought and renovated the steel mill near Philadelphia, PA. In his mind he saw Rearden sacrificed on a pagan altar, with Lee Hunsacker holding the knife.

While he held that vision in his mind, a young man came to see him. He introduced himself as John Galt and probably mentioned that he had a connection with Twentieth Century Motors that went back to Jed Starnes. He had invented and built a prototype for an electrostatic motor for automobiles. Within days, Jed Starnes was dead, and his three children had announced their intention to require everyone at the plant to work according to his ability and pay him according to his need.

John Galt had refused, and furthermore, had announced his intention to "stop the motor of the world." Galt then explained to Midas how he intended to do this: that it was now time for the creative minds of the country to go on strike, and in essence withdraw their talents from a world that did not appreciate them.

Midas reported later that John Galt convinced him to go on strike within fifteen minutes. Very likely Midas did not need convincing. Certainly what John Galt told him, made sense. Furthermore, Galt demonstrated that he was a philosopher, as well as an engineer, and spoke to Midas in terms of basic rights of existence. These were concepts that Midas knew instinctively, but no one before Galt had explained these things to him so clearly.

But most of all, John Galt struck Midas as another "good risk" that Mulligan would have lent money to in a heartbeat. Midas also saw John Galt potentially on that same sacrificial altar, lying next to Hank Rearden. Rather than betray either man, Midas Mulligan would join John Galt's movement.

The bank run

Midas knew better than merely to walk away from his offices at the Mulligan Bank. He sold all his loans, a few at a time, to other banks. Then one day he left orders to notify his depositors to withdraw their funds. So well did he orchestrate what was actually a "controlled bank run" that not a single depositor lost money. When bank examiners audited the books later, they found that those books balanced exactly—to the last penny. The Mulligan Bank was wiped out, but its depositors were safe.

Mulligan's Valley

Main Article: Galt's Gulch

Mulligan came out of this "controlled bank run" with a considerable amount of funds, all of which he converted either to gold, foodstuffs, seed grains, and livestock. But by far his most important asset was a vast tract of land that he had bought years earlier, in the Rocky Mountains.

The mining town of Ouray, Colorado (elevation 8000 feet), nestled in the Uncompaghre River Valley and accessible from the south by a winding road called the Million Dollar Highway, had long been a tourist attraction. The Victorian-era buildings in the town on the valley floor offered excellent hotel accommodations, and the nearby Ouray Ice Park and Ouray Hot Springs were highly lucrative high-end tourist draws in their heyday. (In real life, they still are at the time of posting, though how long that will last in the present slow economy remains to be seen.) But tourist attractions are the first towns to die in a depressed economy. The long march to collectivism in the alternate history of the novel, which if anything the administration of Head of State Mr. Thompson accelerated, made everyone poorer—too poor to go ice climbing, bathing in hot springs, or gawking at antique buildings. The death of Ouray was slow but sure. And so when Midas Mulligan quietly bought up the town (building by building), the ice park, the hot springs, and section after section of the Uncompaghre Valley to the north and south of the town (including the entire right-of-way of the Million Dollar Pass), no one objected. By they they were glad to break even on their real estate.

Mulligan had bought the land and the mountains, intending to restart its mining industry. He was convinced that he could find prospectors who in turn could find the mineral wealth that an earlier generation of miners had given up on. But now he had another purpose: to retire permanently and "never again look into the face of a looter." And so he built a house up-slope from the old town center and stocked the valley with food and livestock sufficient to last one man a lifetime. This was in accord with John Galt's original strike plan: that those who could, would retire to live off their savings; the rest would take the lowest jobs that they could find, barely enough to afford them housing and food.

John Galt told Midas that if he valued his privacy as much as he seemed to, he would take steps to hide the valley, now known as Mulligan's Valley, even further. He also explained to Midas a point he took at once: Midas dared not hire a workforce of workers not part of the strike. To do so would be to compromise the location of the valley, which by now was forgotten, and therefore a secret. Galt boldly asked Midas to hire him as his general contractor. He proposed to build an image projector, using microprocessor-controlled heat rays mounted 700 feet above ground level, to project a false image of a rock-strewn valley five miles distant, and a similar, ground-level device to hide the northern road from view. Nor did Midas have to worry about electric power: John Galt also proposed to build a powerhouse, using a larger version of the electrostatic motor he had invented. As to the southern road, Galt proposed to tear it up, and indeed obliterate it as though no one had ever built it. Midas, impressed, hired Galt on the spot.

Galt set to work at once. The powerhouse, of course, came first. For that, Galt designed a simple granite blockhouse, half the size of a railroad boxcar, with a single door, that he secured with a sound lock. Above that door he carved an oath for those wishing to enter to pronounce:

I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

Anyone pronouncing that oath with meaning would, by so doing, open the lock. Now with electric power to spare, Galt built the ray screen. He subcontracted the obliteration of the Million Dollar Highway to Francisco d'Anconia, after Francisco applied to Midas for a leasehold in the Red Mountain Pass. Galt left the northern (downstream) approach in place, but use a smaller version of his ray screen to camouflage it. Finally, John Galt built his own house in the valley, to use for one month out of the twelve.

This project began in May of 2011. In June, five other men came to visit John and Midas in the valley: Francisco d'Anconia, Ragnar Danneskjöld, Hugh Akston, William Hastings, and Richard Halley, a music composer. June was the "vacation month" of the strike, and Midas agreed to let these other five build their own houses. Francisco built his in the forest near the old Ice Park, and while there he collected some rocks, intending to assay them. He actually assayed them on-site, as he knew how to do, and found them rich in copper. So he was the first to ask Midas for a major leasehold, which Midas granted. That was the beginning of D'Anconia Copper Number One.

Ragnar cleared away one of the buildings on the valley floor and built a riverfront house. Dr. Akston built his house about halfway up-slope on the eastern bank, where he could watch the sunset. William Hastings built a house, as all the others did, but perhaps even then Midas knew that Hastings was ailing and might not come back. (William Hastings did come back the next year but died shortly after he reached his home in Brandon, Wyoming.) Richard Halley built a house on a parcel of land closer to the old town.

At the end of June, all of Midas' visitors went back to wherever they were living on the outside. Midas was now isolated, in his new house and behind the two ray screens. He did not remain isolated for very long. In the fall of 2011, Judge Narragansett joined the strike. Midas instantly asked the judge to join him. The judge did so, and then bought some of Midas' livestock and started his own chicken and dairy farm. The two then invited Richard Halley to take permanent residence. Perhaps Midas had decided to become a music patron—but Halley did not rely entirely on Midas' patronage. He negotiated a larger leasehold and planted fruit trees on his land.

So now Midas had a functioning community. He himself raised wheat and tobacco, and founded a company, with Hugh Akston as the other shareholder, to produce a new brand of cigarettes better than any available on the outside. Judge Narragansett raised chickens and produced raw milk and dairy products, and Richard Halley produced fresh fruit. Whatever the men could not produce for themselves, Midas would acquire through a secret channel that the novel never explains; this was probably a black market in industrial supplies, perhaps the same one that Ragnar Danneskjöld would supply in his privateering activities.

Concerning this last, Ragnar told Midas all about his grand project to "tax the income taxers" and wring from the outside system an amount of gold sufficient to pay back the income taxes of a select group of prospects for the great strike, beginning in the year that the strike began. Midas obliged by re-establishing his bank in the town center, so that Ragnar could bring his booty to the valley and deposit it there. Midas also built a mint and produced gold and silver coin.

The novel does not state specifically when this community got its name. John Galt always referred to it as Mulligan's Valley. Other residents called it Galt's Gulch. (Dagny Taggart called it by another name: Atlantis, the name of a mythical "lost city" in the Atlantic Ocean.)

The economy of the valley was slow to develop. But every year produced more recruits. In 2015, the actress Kay Ludlow came to the valley for the first time and gave a performance that two "striking" playwrights had written. Her performance so impressed Ragnar Danneskjöld that he fell instantly in love with her; his career so impressed her that she fell in love with him. At the end of the month, Judge Narragansett, as Midas' informal Justice of the Peace, married the two. Midas offered Kay Ludlow Danneskjöld his own sponsorship, but she declined, reminding him that he would violate his oath by patronizing an actress "out of season."

In 2016, a contractor named Richard McNamara joined the strike. He built his house in the valley, and then stayed long enough to re-route all the electric wires and water culverts, and to set up an automatic telephone exchange. He did not stay, because the valley's economy could not support him full-time—yet. Dwight Sanders, a famed aircraft designer, also came to the valley. He cleared yet more land on the valley floor, started a hog farm, and built the first functioning airstrip. He at least could stay permanently, for two reasons: the hams and bacon he produced would give him a proper income, and Midas gladly paid Sanders a royalty for a functioning airstrip.

The Colorado debacle

The collapse of the economy of Colorado following the Fair Share Act and other burdensome laws and regulations passed in November of 2017 caused the development of the valley to accelerate. Ellis Wyatt, Andrew Stockton, and many other businessmen/inventors came to the valley and carried on the same activities they had carried on outside. McNamara came back to stay, now that the valley had a large-enough population to support his activities full-time. In June of 2018 Midas held his first "job fair," at which time McNamara hired three assistants for his now-thriving utility business. This was the first indicator that the valley could soon be self-supporting, and provide enough work to let every striker live in the valley full-time.

Kay Ludlow Danneskjöld also came back to stay. She moved into Ragnar's riverfront house and opened a restaurant on the valley floor.

The scab

On May 31, 2019, John Galt brought in yet another strike prospect, one Quentin Daniels, who had tried to reverse-engineer John Galt's electrostatic motor. Midas took Daniels to his own house. (Normally a striker would spend his first night in John Galt's house, in case he might waver, but Daniels needed no such consideration.) Midas had barely reached his house before he looked up and saw a horrifying sight: another aircraft attempting to descend. Any pilot in the valley was supposed to call in by radio so that Midas could have the ray screen turned off. This pilot did not do this. More to the point, the pilot was an uninvited visitor. If he descended much lower, he would intercept the refractor rays, and then anything might happen, and probably not good.

As Midas watched, the plane descended to an altitude of 8700 feet, and then was engulfed in a bright flash. When the flash cleared, the plane was descending even more rapidly—in a flat tailspin. Midas would say later that he thought that whoever the pilot was, deserved to get himself killed for such recklessness. And so he was quite unprepared to learn that the pilot of that aircraft was none other than Dagny Taggart.

Dagny did crash-land in a pasture on the far side of the valley from the airstrip. John Galt was first on the scene, and hand-carried her into the center of the village that the strikers had built. Midas met her there and rebuked her for taking her life in her hands as she had. Her ankle was injured, and she would require some medical attention, but at least she survived. But her presence created another problem, one that neither Midas nor Galt had anticipated: the first scab.

Dagny Taggart stayed in the valley for a month. The novel records that John Galt rented Midas Mulligan's automobile for a nominal daily rate during that month. Dagny received a complete tour of the valley, and had the opportunity to talk to Midas and to all the strikers who lived in the valley. Midas was a part of that: he hosted a "welcome-home dinner" for Dagny, as he did for every striker who now joined.

At the end of that month, Dagny Taggart decided to return to the outside. Midas begged John Galt not to return to New York City, where he spent eleven months out of the year, but Galt insisted on returning. Midas would not learn until later that John Galt's chief, and now sole, interest in staying in New York was spying on, and watching out for, Dagny.

The collapse

On November 5, 2019, John Galt returned to the valley—with Henry Rearden as a passenger. That evening, Midas again hosted a "welcome-home dinner" for Rearden. Rearden was obviously ready to go: he spent half the evening taking orders for Rearden Metal. Midas noted, with no small amount of anger, that Rearden wore a bandage on his head. Rearden waved off Midas' solicitude, saying, "Business, Midas. Business as usual, as they used to insult us with on the outside."

The next day, Midas turned over to Rearden a bankbook listing the very tidy sum that Ragnar Danneskjöld had deposited in the Mulligan Bank in Rearden's name. It was the largest of the "vindication accounts" that Danneskjöld had opened. Midas also bought back the gold bar that Rearden had brought with him, in exchange for a hefty supply of gold and silver coin.

Rearden did not waste time. He bought a vast tract of land that would become the new Rearden Steel, plus another tract that he called his "company subdivision." When Francisco d'Anconia landed in the valley with five of Rearden's former employees aboard, Midas understood the second purchase that Rearden had made.

On November 15, Ragnar Danneskjöld returned to the valley, with his entire crew in tow. Danneskjöld made another gold deposit in the Mulligan Bank, and told Midas that this would be his last. Midas was immensely relieved—but Danneskjöld, as usual, said, "Forget it, Midas."

But when John Galt announced an acceleration in the special lecture series he had begun ten days earlier, Midas knew that something was up. He asked Galt about it, but Galt refused to tell him.

Then on November 22, John Galt made his famous three-hour speech to the nation. The next day, Galt went back to New York City. Again Midas tried to tell Galt not to go; again Galt went anyway. Midas could tell that Francisco knew why Galt would act so rashly—but Francisco wasn't telling, either. Neither did Hank Rearden; Rearden merely smiled at Midas' solicitude.

Three months passed, during which time Henry Rearden brought the New Rearden Steel on-line and took from Midas the last of his markets for black market goods—in this case, steel. Midas would not compete with Rearden Metal. That was one market that Midas was glad to lose.

And then, on February 22, 2020, John Galt was arrested and held incommunicado.

Ragnar Danneskjöld organized half the men in the valley, including Hank Rearden, as the Galt's Gulch Air and Land Militia. Its mission: to rescue John Galt. Mulligan stayed behind and held the fort. Weeks later, to Mulligan's tremendous relief, the Militia returned—with Galt, and with Dagny Taggart.

Aftermath

Now, for the first time since the founding of Galt's Gulch, all its leaseholders were in residence at a time other than the month of June. In April, John Galt announced that "the road [was] cleared" and that the strike was effectively settled—by default.

One may infer, from a description given of investment plans that he was making on the night that Galt would pronounce the strike over, that Midas Mulligan re-established offices of the Mulligan Bank in Chicago and in other cities, as local militias, not answering to the abusive federal government under the Thompson administration, restored law and order. One may also infer that Midas Mulligan never revealed the location of the valley, nor allowed any of his leaseholders to reveal it, in case they might need to retreat to it again. Only with the greatest of reluctance would he allow Dagny Taggart to build a narrow-gauge railway line out to Melrose, to a station offering a connection to a standard-gauge track to Winston, on the old main line.

Midas would have no shortage of money-making opportunities. John Galt would establish a company to build locomotives and other products using his electrostatic motor; Dagny Taggart would start to rebuild the old Taggart Transcontinental Railroad; Henry Rearden would re-establish Rearden Steel; Ellis Wyatt would put out the fires, known as "Wyatt's Torch," on his oil shale fields and resume the production of oil from those fields; and Francisco d'Anconia would rebuild D'Anconia Copper SA, perhaps now known as D'Anconia Copper, Incorporated. In general, with the collapse of the "looters' system," the erstwhile strikers could now rebuild an economy in an environment in which they could operate their businesses as they saw fit and keep and use the fruits of their own labors.


Spoilers end here.


Typology

Midas Mulligan is a rare type. Like so many businessmen today, he receives criticism from many who simply do not understand business in general, nor the specific business he is in. Unlike most businessmen, he does not accept that criticism as valid. His changing of his name from "Michael" to "Midas" is a direct retort to his critics, and almost the same sort of dare that Patrick Henry made.

More to the point, Midas Mulligan, unlike Henry Rearden, never once gives to the villains in this piece the "sanction of the victim" that Ayn Rand observed that all too many businessmen gave to such people. When John Galt comes to visit him, he does not need convincing, nor even specific direction. In fact, his actions establish a lead for others to follow. This represents Rand's idealized concept of a leading businessman: one who not only leads his own business to success but also leads other businessmen by his own example.

References

  1. Midas Mulligan, as described in SparkNotes. <http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/atlasshrugged/terms/char_17.html>
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