I run into many who were Ayn Rand fans in their younger days. Since I enjoyed both her books and her philosophy writings, I always ask more about that. Some of her ideas are profound. I was especially drawn to her comment that smart kids went off bright-eyed to college expecting to encounter like minds and instead came up against the specter of post-modern fuzzy thinking that left them with either damaged brains if they bought in or damaged ability to connect to those around them if they didn’t.
However, Rand was inherently a very flawed person, perhaps from psychological damage inflicted as she fled the Russian revolution. For example, Objectivists should smoke because they didn’t want to give way to the collectivist government propaganda that it was bad for you – not exactly a rational reaction.
Her novel, Atlas Shrugged, asks a profound question. What happens if those few competent people who keep our modern world (1957 version) working simply walk away and refuse to keep the trains running? Well, perhaps she wasn’t all that far off, since the government can keep neither the Amtrak nor the Post Office running. However, her premise has a big fatal flaw. She assumes it’s the 1%, the super-rich industrialists, who are keeping technology running. In her earlier Fountainhead, at least she had a design architect rather than a Wall Street baron creating the innovation that drives technology’s engine.
Perhaps she can be forgiven for missing in 1957 what’s now obvious, since the Wall Street Casino was under better control then and many executives actually ran a company they helped build. She certainly never anticipated a world of financial smoke and mirrors that totally disconnected from the world of things. She thought things, not banks, would fail first. It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.
So suppose every executive making over $500K a year suddenly disappeared? Would the lights go out? Would factories shut down? I would argue only to the extent that flawed corporate procedures might require them to sign payrolls checks or authorize repair expenditures. Nothing they do impacts running the trains or keeping the lights on. That’s the main flaw in the current system. We reward gambling and financial manipulation, not innovation or keeping the lights on. It’s possible that Wall Street or Bank policies could halt commerce if they couldn’t find an overpriced executive to sign off on monetary movements, but in fact, computers keep our money moving. I’d be a lot more worried if the IT departments in Banks and Wall Street firms took a holiday, let alone decided on active sabotage.
So I ask you all, Who IS John Gault? Who are the real Atlases that hold up this technological house of cards? Is he an overpaid Goldman executive or a GM boss? Really, what real world, positive innovation have they been responsible for? Derivatives? Gas guzzlers? Well, maybe it's a Silicon Valley exec? You can still buy an IPad, so I'd question that idea. So, do Capitalists really support our civilization? I’d claim not – not without a whole hoard of engineers and technicians and unfortunately a few conscious marketing and media types who don’t buy their own propaganda.