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Atlas Mugged: The 12 Sleazy Reasons CEOs Really Like Ayn Rand

The new movie trailer for Atlas Shrugged is out and Ayn Rand fans -- who over-index within the ranks of management -- will be drooling over it. Yes, it looks like the film will be word-for-word faithful to Rand's book. Yes, it will be long -- the movie is apparently being released in three parts. And yes, Dagny Taggart (played by Taylor Schilling, at right) looks really hot as she runs a railroad against the odds in a series of tight-fitting dresses.

There are plenty of honchos in the advertising business who are Ayn Rand fans, of course. Mattel svp/worldwide entertainment and business development Steve Ross and former Publicis & Hal Riney president Kirk Souder are two of them. Last year, 20 ad agencies in Belgium went on a "pitch strike," the kind of Randian withdrawal of talent that forms the basis of Atlas Shrugged.

They say they are drawn to Rand's central ethos, which favors laissez faire capitalism, limited government (except where it concerned her), and the notion that selfishly pursuing wealth is, ultimately, a noble act because of the wealth it generates for others. But if you've ever read either of Rand's two big novels, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, you'll know that there are some rather less honorable reasons why CEOs love Rand. Her books may play up libertarian zeal, but they also supply philosophical cover for some of the sleazier sides of business life:

  1. There's nothing wrong with forgetting your wedding anniversary. At the beginning of Atlas, steel magnate Hank Rearden is asked by his wife to attend a party in three months' time. He's really busy and important -- so he tries to wriggle out of it, until Lillian reminds him that it's their 10th wedding anniversary. When you run your own company, spouses come second.
  2. Families are filled with mooches. One of the problems with being the most successful member of your family -- as Rearden is -- is that brothers and mothers and others keep asking you for donations to their various charities. Leeches, all.
  3. Inheriting a railroad is just a normal part of American life. The central conceit of Atlas is that Dagny Taggart gets to run the Taggart Transcontinental railroad because she's an amazing talent. It's nothing to do with the fact that her father died and willed the company to her and her siblings. For Randians, hard work gets you to the top, not nepotism, no matter how much nepotism appears to be on display.
  4. Action = meetings. Although Atlas features both a train crash and a plane crash, most of the "action" consists of a seemingly endless series of meetings about the future of the Taggart company. Meetings with suppliers. Meetings with government bureaucrats. Meetings with competitors. If, like most CEOs, your entire productive worth is measured by what you get out of meetings, then this is drama indeed.
  5. Your childhood friends are some of the richest people in the world. Dagny Taggart's childhood crush and adulthood old flame is Francisco D'Anconia, heir to the d'Anconia copper fortune. Aren't your neighbors just like that? Just because you were born on third base doesn't mean you didn't hit a triple!
  6. Sex with your wife is undignified so it's OK to cheat on her. Although Lillian Rearden is apparently beautiful, demure, polite, submissive and loves Hank very much, he grew bored of her almost as soon as they were married and now can't stand to be touched by her. Marriage is "undignified," a "degradation," and "torture," Rand writes, and distracts men from business. But Rearden "never entered a whorehouse," Rand writes, as if he should receive a medal for it. That's why Dagny and Hank go at it like rabbits in Atlas, and why this is presented as a great love and not a tawdry affair.
  7. A magic pirate will help you avoid paying taxes. In Atlas, America is haunted by the uncatchable pirate Ragnar Danneskjold, who steals from freight ships. Later in the book, Danneskjold presents Rearden with a gold bar representing all the taxes the government has "stolen" from him over the years. Interestingly, real life CEOs often employ a series of offshore devices to avoid taxes both at the corporate and personal level.
  8. Women kinda-sorta like to be raped. Rand's sex scenes feature some recurring themes: Men grabbing women roughly, treating them like "an animal," and using a lot of force. The women are usually borne away on a tide of their passion in the process. There's no explicit suggestion that these encounters are unwanted, but... they sure do happen a lot.
  9. Poor people are stupid, ugly and hostile, and they don't want to work. When Hank and Dagny take their illicit love for a drive in the countryside, they become lost and are forced to ask a destitute family for directions. The family is dirty, dressed in rags, and the wife looks far older than her years. The bastards refuse to help them and then pelt their car with rocks. Elsewhere, Dagny and Hank's employees are almost universally portrayed as shiftless ne'er-do-wells who would rather slit their own throats that show any initiative in the workplace. All poor people are like that. Avoid!
  10. It's OK to steal things. Although Atlas is a paean to private property, a central part of the book revolves around Hank and Dagny's theft of a prototype engine and its plans from a bankrupt factory. Rand's justification: It was tied up in litigation.
  11. Quitting is victory. In Atlas, all the biggest industrial talents mysteriously quit their companies and disappear to teach America a lesson about its dependence upon them. The most spectacular example of this is Ellis Wyatt, who sets his oil fields ablaze before bunking off. CEOs love this idea because in real life they are frequently forced to leave or resign from the companies they lead. That'll teach us to make do without them!
  12. Rich people are good at everything. Throughout the book, the titans of America seem to be able to turn their hands to anything they choose. At one point, an influential academic philosopher turns out to be the best short-order cook on Earth. At another, a car manufacturer emerges as the best grocery store manager "in the world." Uh huh.
But perhaps the oddest thing about Atlas, the movie and the book, is the business Dagny and Hank are in: Railroads and bridges -- the provision of public transport and public infrastructure. If only today's libertarians within the C-suite were as enthusiastic about those activities as Rand was, it might be easier to take them a little more seriously.


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