Ravenblog: What happens when people do not understand Objectivism

As an Objectivist, it bugs me, a lot, when people who have never read, let alone understood Ayn Rand’s philosophy try to criticize Objectivism. Lazy thinking, or avoiding thinking altogether is annoying enough for anyone, but especially for anyone who embraces Objectivism. And, articles that pretend to an understanding of any philosophy can dissuade innocent readers from using their own minds and eyeballs to actually read, understand and deveop a rational opinion about that philosophy.

THIS – (Lynn Parramore, “Ayn Rand-loving CEO destroys his empire”)http://www.salon.com/2013/12/10/ayn_rand_loving_ceo_destroys_his_empire_partner/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow – is what happens when an author who didn’t bother to really think about and understand Ayn Rand’s books and underlying pholisophy (and who may not even have read Ayn Rand) comes across a character in real life who tried to fake an understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy to justify non-rational greed and shortsightedness. (That, or Galt’s Gulch is becoming a reality and this is one of the great minds joining that group to watch society crumble.) According to the article at the above link, Sears CEO Eddie Lampert is a big fan of Ayn Rand, and very public about his fondness for her philosophy. The article goes on to describe how Lampert undermined his employees’ ability to constructively support his company, and how he funneled profits he gained by shortsighted asset-juggling into personal profit and luxury goods, with no apparent concern for the health and longevity of his company.

Parramore’s article also describes Lampert as a man who knew nothing of the retain business when he became the Sears CEO, and that his apparent success early on seemed to suggest he was the sort of wonder-kid that one might expect out of one of Ayn Rand’s novels. The problem is, Ayn Rand illustrated nicely how CEOs ought to behave, and Lampert clearly didn’t read those parts, if his company’s collapse was not his intention from the start. Take the character Francisco d’Anconia, from Atlas Shrugged, as Rand’s textbook example of how a CEO ought to prepare himself to run his company. When Francisco was a boy, he started from the entry level jobs that his father’s mines relied on, and worked his way through the ranks, learning all the jobs necessary to keep his family’s company running smoothly. He studied engineering, as well, so that he knew about the technical side of how to choose a site, build a mine, and maintain it. He also studied economics, enough to understand how his company’s profits and expenses worked. Until the day he decided to run his company to the ground, to prevent society from mooching the results of hi s and his family’s work, his company was the most successful in his industry. If Lampert knows something we don’t about a pending societal collapse, I doubt very much that d’Anconia was his role model.

Now, consider another Atlas Shrugged character, Dagny Taggart, who also spent her childhood learning about how her father’s railroad worked, getting jobs as soon as she was old enough at the ground level of her father’s company. Dagny held out for much of the book, refusing to collapse her company, so her behavior in that book is a great template for how Rand thought CEOs ought to treat their employees. For Dagny, the job of a CEO is to hire people who can do the jobs that need to be done, and provide the tools those employees need to do their jobs. Considering the article’s account of Lampert, this seems to be another point he missed. If he was doing his job correctly, he would not have been spying on his employees, undermining their efforts by pitting them against each other, or failing to ensure that his stores were adequately staffed to remain clean and useful.

And, the most important detail from the above article that stands out as proof, if the author is correct, that Lampert didn’t really understand or actually accept Rand’s philosophy. From the article, “He [Lampert] became obsessed with technology, wasting resources on developing apps as Sears’ physical stores became dilapidated and filthy. Instead of investing in workers and developing useful products, he sold off valuable real estate, shuttered stores, and engineered stock buybacks in order to manipulate stock prices and line his own pockets.” The whole point of Objectivism, as far as business is concerned, is to produce something of value to trade fairly with others by way of money. If Lampert was skipping the job of developing useful products and making profitable use of his properties towards making more and better products, using trickery instead to make his profits, his business model cannot be considered at all Objectivist in nature, however much he ‘loves’ Ayn Rand.

Will the general public bother to read Rand rather than just accepting Lynn Parramore’s article at face value? I doubt it. And, for people who have never read Rand’s work, this sort of article feeds into that huge thread of misinformation that drives people away from reading and understanding Objectivism. Eddie Lampert, at least as described in Parramore’s article, represents the sort of parasite Rand’s books would never promote. If Lampert’s collapse of his company was intentional, his behavior in destroying Sears still should not be considered a blueprint of Objectivist ideals at work in business.

About Ravenmount

Independent science nerd/writer/music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently in Colorado.
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