Last week I wrote about the hidden subjectivity of Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, driven by her personal flaws. But then I realized something pretty scary -- we seem to be living in Rand's world right now, not because of the evil government she imagines but because some of our business leaders seem to be convinced that they are the heroes of Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, and like those fictional characters, are prepared to go on strike if they do not get what they want in the November elections.
Four men in particular, Arthur Allen, David Siegel, and the Koch Brothers have expressed this sentiment clearly in emails sent to their employees, in which they threaten to downsize their companies, cut employee salaries and benefits, and even fire people if President Obama wins re-election. The implicit message, of course, is that the employees better vote for Mitt Romney if they want to keep their livelihood. Several other CEOs have reportedly done the same.
The problem with this, other than just being unconscionable, is that even if these guys are Atlas, they are not carrying the world on their shoulders alone. One big lie that has been propagated in this election cycle is that the success of the private sector has been created in a complete vacuum and solely through the efforts of a handful of capable business leaders, without the aid of any of their lowly employees, or of our roads, buses, subways, water system, electricity grid or anything else subsidized by public funding. If this astonishing self-reliance sounds too good to be true, it is.
The reality is that a company's success, whether it is a small enterprise or a major corporation, is not just the result of the hard work and intelligence of a select few but also of the many loyal and dedicated hands who help those men and women achieve their goals, and also because of the massive infrastructure of our great country, which provides the private sector with the means to conduct commerce efficiently. To represent otherwise is arrogant and presumptuous. Yes, our business leaders do "build that," but they don't do it all by themselves. A profitable company is the product of every worker's hard labor: from the CEO who drives strategy to the accountant who keeps the books, all the way down to the janitor who mops the floors and keeps the place clean for the CEO and accountant to work in.
For our captains of industry to assume that if they "shrug," their workers and the country will collapse, is a narcissistic leap worthy of Ayn Rand herself. What is more likely to happen is that new entrepreneurs and business people whose success is not determined by an election but by innovation, hard work, respect for their workers, advanced production techniques, new services, and better value propositions for customers, will take their place and triumph regardless of the political party in office. True business leaders do not cut and run in the face of higher taxes or more regulation, but work within the framework of the nation to do an even better job and achieve success.
So go ahead, Atlas, shrug if you want, but if I was you, I would stop whining about the weight of the world and hit the gym instead.
SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein as well as at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of two novels, including "Merger" which Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". Please visit www.sanghoee.com for details.
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