10 April 2009 Note: check updated results here!
Lots of chatter on the libertarian blogs about whether we're in an Atlas moment, how sales of Atlas Shrugged are peaking, and how folks finally might be coming round to rejecting the moochers and embracing their inner Galt.
Here's some fun, courtesy of Google Insights.
"Ayn Rand" versus "Karl Marx"
The two lines show us search trends over the last 12 months on the terms "Ayn Rand" (red) and "Karl Marx" (blue). Scales are normalized as a proportion of all searches, with 100 being the largest number of searches. Marx is by far the more popular search term.
Where are folks most interested in each? Well, Google's Search Insight tells us that too. Maps below show search intensity on Karl Marx (in blue) and on Ayn Rand (in red).
So, in lots of the developing world, we're seeing lots of searches on Marx and very little on Rand. Rand only registers in the Philippines. In the US, Rand beats Marx by a small margin; same in India. In Canada, Marx beats Rand; same in Norway and New Zealand and ... pretty much every country that makes the top ten in searches on Ayn Rand. The green bars show searches for "Atlas Shrugged". Only in the US and India do searches on Rand beat searches on Marx.
Search Insights is powerful enough for us to drill down onto country-specific searches. So, we find in Canada, that Rand beat Marx from mid June 08 through August 08, but Marx wins just about the rest of the time. This one shocked me: the proportion by which Marx beat Rand in Ontario matched that in Alberta. Only in British Columbia, Canada's "loonie left coast", did Rand beat Marx. In Manitoba, ancestral home of Barbara Branden, Rand didn't show up at all.
We can drill down even further. Marx beats Rand by a larger majority in Edmonton than in Calgary; Edmonton is the seat of government and sometimes is disparaged as Redmonton. Turns out it's just a matter of degree.
In book sales, Atlas beats Das Kapital. The paperback edition of Atlas is currently #29 in Books at Amazon; Capital is at #5,213. I'd love to know what the rank movement is since a year ago, but I don't know how to access historical Amazon data. Sales of both certainly seem to be up, but I can't compare trends without a decent handle on base rate sales from a year or two ago.
So, Randians, be a bit careful about calling this a Randian moment. Economic crisis seems to intensify interest in alternatives at both poles, at least as evidenced by Google search trends. You can, of course, object that maybe all the searches on Marx are to find out just how Marxist Obama really is: it's Objectivists doing the searches. There certainly are a lot of searches on Marx + Obama, but I can't evaluate the searchers' normative assessments of any such link. I've tried adding a few disambiguating terms like evil or bad to add to the searches; doesn't seem to affect much. If you can think of better ways of disambiguating, I'd love to see the results!
Other fun searches: Capitalism and Communism are about neck and neck in the search races, with very collinear time series: massively parallel movements since November. And "Objectivism" doesn't garner enough searches to much show up anywhere, at least not in comparison with either capitalism, communism or socialism.
HT: Many thanks to Hal Varian for telling me about Google Search Insights! It's pretty awesome.