Scandals lead execs to 'Atlas Shrugged'
and an introduction to Ayn Rand
By Michael Dickey
All, for those who interact with me on a regular basis you will likely be familiar with one of my leading projects, mentioned in a previous email. For the past two years I have been designing and building a motorcycle. I have submitted a provisional patent application for a particular aspect of the design, which I am building the full vehicle to test. All of this has required hard work and long hours of dedicated time consuming effort. I have devoted countless hours to studying these subjects and developing my ideas. But dont see this as an attempt to impress, instead I want to emphasize that I am an average person of average potential. There is nothing I was born with that makes me capable of working on this project that others do not have, in fact the only thing I want people to recognize when hearing of my efforts is that it is something they can accomplish as well, that they see in me what they could do if they put the effort into it. My only successfull 'convert' so far has been my cousin, Jason. After relaying some of my ideas to him in my usual excited difficult to follow manner, he had this to say in an email to me. "I am intruiged to hear you talk about your ideas because I have seen myself in them. I have always wondered where I get this overwhelming desire to improve my surroundings. A nagging drive to do things that may seem odd to others all for the sake of efficency or advanced practicality has haunted me. This might be hard to understand, but it comes down to this, you have inspired me to push even harder with my own ideas. The only thing that is difficult is keeping up with the effort, and remaining motivated." That is, indeed, the most difficult aspect for me as well...
In that regard, I have read 'Atlas Shrugged' by philosopher Ayn Rand twice, it is, perhaps, the single most motivational book I have read, in fact, as this article mentions, Americans rank it as the second most motivational book in history (behind the Bible). This book has taught me the value of achieving through hard work, and the prosperity and the raising of standards of livings that can come for all people from the concentrated effort of individuals. It has taught me the value of productive effort, and the instrinsic moral validity of acheiving. 'Atlas Shrugged' has been an essential inspiration to me (many many thanks to list member who bought this book as a gift for me) and has served to re-inspire me anytime I feel inadequate or reach a set back in accomplishing my goals. As superficial as it sounds, I could not have done any of what I have done without this book.
Atlas Shrugged was written as a culmination of Ayn Rand's ideas, Ayn Rand grew up in Russia during the height of Soviet attrocities, she saw families have red stickers smacked on their door sentancing them to starvation 'for the good of the state' While she saw families and friends escorted to labor camps, many to die, American and western intellectuals were espousing the virtues of communism and socialism. She visited distant relatives in America as a young woman and relished in the freedom found in America. She fell in love with the actor Frank O'Conner, who encompossed her ideal of a perfect man. She married and gained her citinzship in the only country in the world founded on freedom. She developed her philosophy and ideas throughout her life, and has served as the most influentional modern day philosopher, developing on the class of philosophy started by Aristotle who planted the seeds of science, logic, and individualism. Rand as her lifes work attempted to create a system of morality that was based on a objective principles, as opposed to subjective values. This would lead to questions of morality being solved as assuradly as questions of pure science can be, such as how fast a rock falls when dropped. Reading Atlas Shrugged has not only motivated me, it has helped me to define my own ethical principles.
Atlas Shrugged is not meant as a pulitzer prize winning piece of fiction, it is meant as a culminating representation of Ayn Rand's ideals. It details the story of powerfull rail road executive Dagney Taggart and Steel producer Hank Reardon fighting and overcoming tremendous odds where government officials are manipulated as tools of competing industries to regulate Taggart's rail road out of existence and prevent Rearden from marketing a new form of steel that is stronger and cheaper than all other steel. A systemetic propoganda campaign is launched by Rearden competitors, claiming Rearden's steel will spontaneously fracture in an un-predictable manner, the 'State Science Institute' officially declares Rearden steel a hazard to the publics health on dubious scientific data. When the leading competitor to Rearden can never come through on steel orders for Dagney's rail, Dagney circumvents the apathetic non-committel board of her railroad and proceeds to build a desperately warranted track connecting a growing industrial base in colorado to the rest of the US out of Rearden steel, despite the libel propoganda. Rearden's competitors and detractors manipulate their respective government stooges into threatening to outlaw Rearden steel, the rail unions threaten to never ride on trains running on rearden rails. When Rearden steel proves a success, Rearden's detractors manipulate their government stooges again to limit the production by law to protect other steel producers from being forced out of business by a superior product that is cheaper, can be used to lay more rail, and can save lives. The rail unions push through legislation limiting the number of trains that can be run on the new rail and limiting their top speed, driving up all the prices of all the goods moved out of the new industrial base in Colarodo.
A real world parrallel to Hank Rearden's steel can be seen in the previous article I sent out, where in the late 60's the inventor of wet sprayed Asbestos lamented that should the World Trade Centers ever catch fire above the 60th floor (where litigation and the subsequent ban forced the builders to stop using the insulation) the tower would collapse. Unfortunately his prediction proved true, and wet sprayed asbestos has, despite repeated tests, never been shown to be harmfull.
During this time in 'Atlas Shrugged' all nations of the world are becoming 'Peoples states' They are nationalizing all their industries and their economies. This nationalization often rips the running of their industrial bases out of the hands of the competent productive individuals that created these industries through their own long hours, and placed them into the hands of incompetent government officials who only got their power because of their political influence. Productivity expectedly drops while prices soar. Soon the world is seeing food shortages, energy shortages, and more and more regulations attempting to combat previous regulations. During this time the producers not forced out of their positions by nationalization see their ability to create and produce limited at every step of they way, thier productive efforts are looted and mooched 'for the good of the people'. Schools, academia, and the media are teaching people that all opinions are equally valid, that feelings can rule the world, that reality is a misconception, that the government knows what is best, and that to be moral you must sacrifice yourself to others.
During this time a man is working behind the scenes to combat the looters and moochers whos actions will do nothing less than destroy civilization and human progress. He is convincing the productive members of society to abandon their posts, to not live under the moral code established by these looters who are pushing the producers to work toward their own destruction. He organizes a strike, the only one of its kind, where all the productive members of the society remove their mind from their work, and let the looters fend for themselves.
A real world parrallel to this nationalization and its competing strike can be seen in Venezualla currently, where despotic Dictator Hugo Chavez attempted to nationalize Venezuela's oil production, which amounts to 30% of its gross national product. The executives and workers in the Oil trade objected and people from all walks of life protested this tyranny, they went on strike. The strikes have brought Venezuela's oil wells and refineries to a standstill. Chavez' private militia opened fired into a crowd of protestors, but fortunately the people of Venezuela were not so easily defeated. They have rallied again with a vast general strike protesting Chavez's rule. The protesters are making non-controversial demand: they want a national referendum on Chavez's presidency an attempt to oust the would-be dictator through new elections. This international response to this fight for freedom has been discouraging. The international community has garned only vague morally non-committel responses, The Washington Post condemned both sides, chiding Venezuela's workers that "national strikes are no more the solution than martial law" as if they are as guilty for resisting dictatorship as Chavez is for imposing it.
The sad extent of this type of nationalization can be seen in full effect in North Korea. Liberal Author Christopher Hitchens calls North Korea 'The Worst of the Worst', it is the worst possible combination of absolute despotism, totalitarianism, and state failure. It is a living example of the nightmare portrayed in Orwells 1984 and predicted as a result of runaway nationalization in Rand's Atlas Shrugged, he says of North Korea -
"All films, all books, all newspapers and all radio and television broadcasts are about either the Father or the Son[Kim Jong Il]. Everybody is a soldier. Everybody is an informer. Everybody is a unit. Everything is propaganda...Children are drilled to think of Japanese and Americans, in particular, as monstrous...The old justification for the Stalinist forced-march system was that at least it led to development. But even in Pyongyang, the capital city which is reserved for approved citizens, one can see that this excuse doesn't work. Neither does anything else; the place is stalled and hungry and subject to constant blackouts. There are no cars on the streets; there is no construction except of tawdry shrines to the Holy Family. A very small window of dollar bribery has opened up in recent years, but there's nothing to buy and no black market. Corruption at the leadership level is exorbitant, with palaces and limos and (a special obsession of Kim Jong Il's) megalomaniacal movie projects...I saw people scavenging individual grains from the fields and washing themselves in open sewers. On the almost deserted roads, animals do a good deal of the hauling. Domestic pets are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps most have been eaten, for the fact is that North Korea is a famine stat...Nobody knows the death toll-the best guess is between 1.5 and 2 million-but in addition a generation of physically and mentally stunted children has been "fathered" by the "Dear Leader." Well-attested rumors of cannibalism have filtered across the border to China, where a Korean-speaking minority has lately been augmented by refugees so desperate that they will risk shooting in order to brave the river. A system where you can't live but you can't leave is the definition of hell...deserted towns, empty factories, wandering and neglected children and untilled fields...the country's once productive coal mines have been allowed to flood, and that there are no pumps that can be brought to bear" (from -http://www.chosunjournal.com/worst.html)
The latest estimates are that the state has killed 2 million people in the recent famine. This would make it the worst state killing since Cambodia in the 1970s. It would push the total killing by the communist regime since its origin to about 4 million people, making communist North Korea the 6th greatest killer since 1900. Compare North Korea with South Korea, which started with similiar popuations and have nearly identical climates, land area, people, and culture. Yet South Korea, which embraced capitalism and democracy at the end of the Korean War is now the 11th largest economy in the world, a bustling hub of progress and growth which recently hosted the Olympics. North Korea, on the other hand, embraced massive statism, it is the only full fledged communist state intact, its people are desperately poor and millions have starved to death, while factories and fields remain unused and empty it receives billions in international aide while maintaining a standing army of 1 million with artillary constantly aimed at South Korea's capital. A truly sad state of affiars.
I have only described events that take place in part I of this 1100 page three part story. But dont think this book justifies the immoral behavior of some modern execs, these morally vile individuals serve as some of the main villians in the book, despised by the protagonists and the heroes as fools, looters, and moochers. What follows is an article on the renewed interest in Atlas Shrugged by business men, ceo's, entrpenuers et al. published in USA Today. For those interested but pressed for time, you can rent 'Atlas Shrugged' on tape in three ~11 tape parts from www.booksontape.com and listen to it on your commute... Enjoy - Mike)
Scandals lead execs to 'Atlas Shrugged'
By Del Jones, USA TODAY
In these post-Enron days of corporate scandal, some of the millions of copies of Atlas Shrugged that have been sold over 45 years are being dusted off by executives under siege by prosecutors, regulators, Congress, employees, investors, a Republican president, even terrorists.
Executive headhunter Jeffrey Christian says many of his clients are re-reading the 1,075-page novel to remind themselves that self-interest is not only the right thing to do from an economic standpoint but is moral, as well.
CEOs put the book down knowing in their hearts that they are not the greedy crooks they are portrayed to be in today's business headlines but are heroes like the characters in Rand's novel. They strive to be real-life achievers who do far more to lift the world's standard of living, cure disease and end starvation than Mother Teresa and altruists who believe a full life requires self-sacrifice and serving the needs of others.
Top books that made a difference in people's lives: 1. The Bible* 2. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand 3. The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck 4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee 5. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
* - a large gap exists between the No. 1 book and the rest; based on 2,032 responses from Book-of-the-Month Club members,1991, in survey co-sponsored by Library of Congress' Center for the Book
The Atlas Society, devoted to Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead and other fiction by Ayn Rand, saw Web site visits suddenly double to 23,000 a month this summer after holding steady for years at 10,000 to 12,000. Traffic started creeping up in January and February as the Enron scandal blossomed. The Objectivist Center, which focuses on the philosophy spawned by the books, saw user visits rise 159% to 78,397 in August 2002 from 30,247 in August 2001.
Book sales, while still remarkable for a novel published in 1957 and written during the early years of the Cold War, have not seen a significant spike this year, says publisher Penguin Putnam. But that does not count the used copies recycled by those like 74-year-old real estate multimillionaire Leon Trager of Potomac, Md. He says he visits used bookstores to buy copies of Atlas Shrugged to give away.
Atlas Shrugged ranked No. 429 on Amazon.com June through August this year, and some weeks it threatens to crack the Top 100 among more than 2 million listed. A movie deal may be down the road, which would return it to its best-seller days of the 1950s and early 1960s, when it was popular on college campuses.
The book sells extremely well in pockets such as the Atlanta suburb of Acworth, Ga., according to Amazon.com. Acworth residents are far more likely than the general population to own tax-sheltered annuities and subscribe to Forbes magazine, according to market research company Claritas.
Rallying around Rand
Every month or so, a group of 15 or 20 Kansas City CEOs get together to share advice and corporate war stories. It's nothing like a book club, but membership requires a working knowledge of the novel.
These aren't executives who rose through the corporate bureaucracy but are out of the Bill Gates mold and sit atop companies they built. The premise of the book is that such innovators become so fed up with the "moochers" who regulate, tax and otherwise feed off of those who achieve, that the achievers go on strike. They withdraw their talents from the world, threatening to send it back toward the Dark Ages.
After Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and other scandals that have created a public backlash against industry and its captains, the Kansas City group has fantasized of a modern-day strike of thinkers and creators, says Neal Patterson, a group member and CEO of Cerner, a big health care information technology company.
"We are the producers of society," says Will Koch, CEO of a development company that owns the Holiday World & Splashin' Safari theme park in Santa Claus, Ind. "We take resources that would be idle and put people to work."
Atlas Shrugged fans note that they despise illegal behavior. Fighting crime, foreign invasion and protecting property rights are the legitimate functions of government, and they welcome jail terms for white-collar criminals, says Ed Snider, chairman of the Philadelphia sports teams Flyers and 76ers and an Atlas Shrugged devotee. Indeed, Rand wrote, "Neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud."
But instead of punishing the guilty, Rand-fan executives say, recent scandals have unleashed an executive witch hunt.
"Business is an available scapegoat," says Frank Bond, founder of Holiday Health Spas, now Bally's, and a developer and manager of real estate, an industry that he says is overtaxed and "regulated to death."
If you want to attack a group of people and still be politically correct, executives are about your last available target, says Bond, who has read the book twice.
"They're going after all CEOs, capitalism itself," says John Aglialoro, CEO of Cybex International, which makes exercise equipment.
Aglialoro paid $1 million for the movie rights to Atlas Shrugged and hopes to seize on renewed interest to raise money over the next year to get the movie independently produced.
It was nearly made into a six-hour TV miniseries by producer Al Ruddy, but it fell apart as movie deals so often do, Aglialoro says. It was derailed last year by a threatened actors strike.
A 1998 documentary about Rand's life was nominated for an Academy Award and played to sold-out venues. Aglialoro says he will push diligently to get two movies made from the book because the book itself is winning converts too gradually. Objectivism needs to reach the masses, he says. The masses, according to recent surveys, have recently started warming up more to big government and less to big business.
"Our government is leaping forward trying to legislate morality, which is a joke," says Patterson, who last year sent e-mail to Cerner managers warning them that their cars were too seldom in the company parking lot before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
Atlas Shrugged reads like a mystery that takes readers from a steel mill to high society and includes a strong female character in Dagny Taggart, a top executive ahead of her time. Critics consider The Fountainhead to be Rand's better work of literature.
But Atlas Shrugged is more point-blank with Rand's philosophy, and it's the second-most-influential book of all time, a distant second to the Bible, according to a survey of 5,000 Book-of-the-Month Club members taken a decade ago for the Library of Congress. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, a friend of Ayn (pronounced EYE-n) Rand's before her death in 1982, is among its best-known proponents.
Greenspan declined comment for this story.
Rand, a Russian immigrant to the USA in 1926 at age 21, spent much of her career as a screenwriter in Hollywood. She quit writing fiction after Atlas Shrugged, spending the rest of her life promoting the objectivist philosophy.
Many business leaders say Atlas Shrugged influenced their lives more than anything else they have read. Joe Stafford, the 40-year-old CEO of supply chain management company IC Solutions, said he was a liberal before reading Rand at 23. Chip Joyce, the 31-year-old president of Ulla Bazant, a maker of high-end women's apparel, says the book has been his "frame of reference."
Others see it as pie in the sky. "Ayn Rand creates a perfect capitalism, which in my mind relies too heavily on individual integrity to work," says Nicolas Boillot, president of ad agency Hart-Boillot. "There are those who are looking for a quick buck and willing to compromise their integrity for a price. Perfect capitalism is as attractive and impossible as perfect communism. The greedy and lazy will ruin either system for the rest."
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, CEO of the Leadership Institute at Yale University, said executives who take refuge in the capitalist utopia of Atlas Shrugged are "reading themselves into a trance of defensive self-delusion."
Hershey's success unexplained
He says great American industrialists were in fact community-minded, going back to the pioneer frontiersmen who circled their wagons and built barns together. The philosophy of Atlas Shrugged does not explain successful CEOs such as Milton Hershey, who during the Depression provided employees of his chocolate company with free medical care and paid off the mortgages of every church in town, Sonnenfeld says.
Rand should have written fewer screenplays and "watched more Frank Capra to better understand the real values of her new adopted country," Sonnenfeld says.
At the same time, "Ayn Rand did not anticipate CEOs who would loot their firms for hundreds of millions of dollars before bankrupting them," Sonnenfeld says.
But Atlas Shrugged disciples say fraud by executives pales next to the daily drip-drip fraud of big government. For example, Koch finds the push for federal regulation of amusement rides to be "wacky" and right out of Atlas Shrugged, which he listened to twice on tape, back to back, a total of 31 hours.
He said a theme park in Indiana went out of business after an accident. That provides a major incentive for safety, as do insurance premiums, Koch says.
Liberals oppose Rand's attack on welfare. But conservatives object to Rand's embrace of atheism, says Robert Bidinotto, head of the Atlas Society.
A quasistrike of achievers
Atlas Shrugged devotees say America's wealth builders will never go on strike the way Rand described, but they say a quasistrike is underway. "It's not organized, but it's happening," Joyce says.
For example, since the Enron scandal, CEOs are refusing to sit on boards of other companies, thereby withholding their business savvy from the market. About 60% of executives are turning down offers to serve on boards vs. 25% a year ago, Christian says.
Outplacement firms Challenger Gray & Christmas and Drake Beam Morin have released fresh studies showing that CEOs are resigning and retiring as never before.
Anecdotes abound about physicians leaving the medical profession because they can't afford malpractice insurance even though they have never been sued, says Edward Hudgins, Washington director of the Objectivist Center.
Saudi Arabia has a huge oil resource, but its totalitarian system sidelines its creative citizens to the point that the economy never grows, Bond says.
When Microsoft was being sued by the Justice Department, founder Gates should have threatened to move the corporate headquarters up the road from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, Hudgins says. The political fallout would have forced the government to retreat, he says.
"Instead, literally two or three days later, Gates was talking to Bill Clinton about the importance of charity," Hudgins says. Gates made a mistake by seeking the moral permission of those who think business leaders should be altruists, he says.
Enron-like corporate scandal isn't the only reason business leaders are hunkering down with Atlas Shrugged.
They say the attack on the World Trade Center was an obvious attack on the freedom that allows capitalism to flourish. "The terrorists picked their target well," Hudgins says.
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