If you’ve read  Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, or ANTHEM: The Graphic Novel, you’ve  been shaped in some way by Ayn Rand’s captivating words. Even people who’ve never read her seem to be affected by her. In today’s culture, where people are always looking for a scapegoat,  Gen-Zers and Millennials, commonly (and mistakenly) associate Rand with greed, intolerance, and just plain meanness. I fear this baseless connection is turning youth off to Ayn Rand even before they pick up her novels. This past weekend I caught up with Jennifer Grossman at her 30th College Reunion at Harvard. Sitting in an old elegant lecture hall, a mixed group of alumni, one curious high school student, myself, and my coworker along for the ride, all decided to spend two hours of our sunny Saturday inside, pondering Ayn Rand. I couldn’t help but notice that much of the conversation centered around a simple question, “What would Ayn Rand think about________?” Attendees filled in the blank with topics about the current political climate, including the recent tax legislation. While a bit agitated that much of the conversation revolved...
To set up the climax of her 1943 novel, The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand had her protagonist, the genius architect Howard Roark, make a deal with Peter Keating to design Cortlandt Homes, a planned government housing project making headlines. Keating, who was a mediocre architect at best, wanted to win the prestigious commission, and he asked Roark to ghost a winning design. Roark agreed to the request under one very specific condition: that the housing project be built exactly as Roark designed it. Roark explained to Keating the terms of the deal this way: Peter, I love this work. I want to see it erected. I want to make it real, living, functioning, built. But every living thing is integrated. Do you know what that means? Whole, pure, complete, unbroken. Do you know what constitutes an integrating principle? A thought. The one thought, the single thought that created the thing and every part of it. The thought which no one can change or touch. I want to design Cortlandt. I want to see it built. I want to see it built exactly as I design it. Roark drafted a contract, which both men signed. Both men understood that the contract was not legally binding, but Roark made clear that he would not suffer the contract to be breached. Roark would design Cortlandt Homes, and Keating would take credit for the design, on the condition that the housing project be built exactly as designed. If Keating should renege, if he should alter or allow to be...
“Firing people was easily the worst part of the job.” Those are the words of a great friend of mine who for decades ran a very successful financial corporation. The sleepless nights that preceded gently telling people they weren’t measuring up were agony for him. The popular notion of indifferent-to-employee CEOs is so very divorced from reality. I’ve never met one who enjoyed being the bearer of bad news to workers who, in many instances, had dependents. The popular notion of indifferent-to-employee CEOs is so very divorced from reality. My friend ultimately devised a fix so that he could avoid what was so disagreeable. He designed a production-based compensation structure so that the employees could succeed or fail on their own. So quantitative was it that some of the highest paid employees worked the fewest hours, and vice versa. No sucking up to the boss, no necessary “face time” in the office, just production tied to compensation. And if they didn’t produce they would know this without being told. It would show up in pay. Basically, they would “fire themselves.” A "Sweatshop" That Fosters "Suffering"? Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are,” and this CEO essentially applied Parcells’s maxim to the workplace. He was able to sleep easier as employees self-selected out of his company as opposed to him having to tell them to leave. His employees were happy and so was he. All this came to mind while reading Matthew...
In Book 2, Chapter 6 of Atlas Shrugged, on May 15,  Dr. Lloyd Ferris, head of the State Science Institute, extorts from Henry Rearden the patented process for making Rearden Metal, and Ayn Rand brings the storyline for Rearden Metal to a close. The chain of events leading up to Rearden's signing away his life’s work is intricate and involved, and you’ll need to read Atlas Shrugged if you want to follow it all – or at least check out our new Pocket Guide to Atlas Shrugged – but the chapter gives a good overview, and is worth a review. The chapter begins in a conference room filled with bureaucrats (chief among them Wesley Mouch, Clem Weatherby, and Head of State Mr. Thompson – a man so nondescript Rand doesn’t bother to give him a first name), crony capitalists (James Taggart and Orren Boyle), a former banker (Eugene Lawson), a union leader (Fred Kinnan), and one government scientist (Dr. Ferris). These men, after years of government regulation, rent seeking, and labor strikes, have finally succeeded in grinding the economy of the United States to a halt, and they are meeting to discuss what to do next. Not that they meant to shut the country down. Their planned economy, so many years in the making, was supposed to work. Still, the year-over-year losses are devastating; Mr. Weatherby is...
There are some plagues that mankind seems to be incapable of fully destroying. One of these plagues is slavery, which has existed since man moved from being a hunter-gatherer to agriculture. Slavery is the condition where an individual is deprived of much of the product he or she produces and often all or much of their property. The ancient Greeks held slaves. The Romans held slaves. The Chinese held slaves. The Ottoman Turks held slaves. Serfdom, a less restricted form of slavery, existed in Europe from the fall of Rome until it was finally abolished in Russia in 1861. The harsher forms of slavery existed in Europe and most of the rest of the world until the 19th century –– when it was peacefully abolished in many countries, such as England, or through violent clashes, such as the U. S. Civil War. By 1900 most of the “civilized” world had abolished slavery and serfdom. But then a more lethal variant emerged under the benign names of socialism, fascism, and communism. The implementation of these ideologies resulted in governments causing the deaths of somewhere between 100 and 200 million of their own citizens in the 20th century. As in the 19th century, the peasants revolted, and late in the 20th century, those living in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union rose up and tossed off their yokes. The peoples of the world had the opportunity to...

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