John Galt — Is He Still Around?

From the September 15th New York Times comes a hint at one of the deeper more submerged intellectual currents shaping the economy:

One of the most influential business books ever written is a 1,200-page novel published 50 years ago, on Oct. 12, 1957. It is still drawing readers; it ranks 388th on Amazon.com’s best-seller list.

The book is “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest.

The Times goes on to point out that Atlas Shrugged received terrible reviews. With nearly 1,200 pages of a comic book plot dappled with cartoon characters, this isn’t surprising. Yet it wasn’t former English majors who made it durable.

The Times continues,

But the book attracted a coterie of fans, some of them top corporate executives, who dared not speak of its impact except in private. When they read the book, often as college students, they now say, it gave form and substance to their inchoate thoughts, showing there is no conflict between private ambition and public benefit.

“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas,” said John A. Allison, the chief executive of BB&T, one of the largest banks in the United States.

“It offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call it complete,” he said.

Combine “the virtue of selfishness” with, to paraphrase Vince Lombardi, “rationality isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” and you get — Pavlov on steroids. What a vision of humanity! Yuck.

And lest we lionize one of Ms. Rand’s most accomplished acolytes for his new book criticizing the Bush administration, we do well to recall when he was a whippersnapper:

One of Rand’s most famous devotees is Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, whose memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” will be officially released Monday… Shortly after “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Mr. Greenspan wrote: “ ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.”

 Uh, huh. Human society as Discovery Channel. Sweet.

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