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atlas shrugged chapter 1, james vs dagny

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colin alexander
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So after reading chapter 1, the question on my mind is about James is  " why is James employed, let alone a part of the company, let alone the president of the company".  The question about Dagny is " why is she not simply the owner/ CEO of the company?" what makes it interesting is how a father has such polar opposite children and the one that is a train wreck that went off the rails is the president of company.

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Colin, welcome to OO.com!

I assume you haven't finished the novel yet, so I won't give much away. But, Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged as a recent-past period piece. Women weren't given positions like CEO of a huge, national company. In the context of the period, even Dagny's position as Chief of Operations is almost too much to think of for a woman of that time.

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If I may follow through on JASKN, the setting of Atlas Shrugged is a somewhat hypothetical United States of America. It is a slightly altered version of America at mid-20th century. It may help to image an America as you might see it in those movies from the 1950s. I even went so far as to "cast the characters" as classic film stars as a means of keeping track of them in my head. (For example: Tracy and Hepburn would have been perfect as Reardon and Dagny.) Occasionally, social norms reflect the mid-20th century, more so than our times. To be sure, the government of the US, as with the rest of the world's industrial nations, are recognizable, but there are subtle differences that remind you that this is fiction. I hope I didn't reveal anything, enjoy.

Edited by Repairman
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They nailed my first point - The setting is a generalized early 20th Century America so a lady would not be a CEO.  Rearden's wife treats Dagny like she isn't even a woman for being an industrialist and COO as it is.

 

Second Point, and more importantly, Atlas Shrugged is a novel  Dagny vs. James is a narrative device to illustrate several key themes including the desire to Iive vs. nihilism, producer vs. looter, and moral Capitalism vs. crony-capitalism (to use a modern buzz phrase).   

 

This narrative device would have been sunk if Dagny was CEO since she would have obviously fired James and the novel would have gone a different direction.  Having James in charge was necessary to force this conflict through the novel until a proper resolution.  I might also add it was necessary for James to be in charge since cronyism was the only way Rand could place a hero into the business climate of the later stages of a statist economy.  If Dagny ran the railroad she would have not compromised and it would have been cannibalized by the looters half way through the novel.  We would have been treated to Dagny listening to the news from her cottage for the last half of the novel, instead of being present where the action was, which would have made for a far less interesting story.

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I'd point out in addition that TT is a publicly-traded, family-controlled company with a board that appoints the CEO.  James simply had the board on his side.  Dagny wasn't nearly wealthy enough to buy it outright.

 

That's how he got the job.  He kept in large part because Dagny kept cleaning up his messes.

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so part of this is to bring in a new philosophy different from predecessors?

It makes me wonder what the founder of the company did that allowed the company to become what it became? Such as why is the company a public company in the first place, and what went into picking successors for the company. It seems like the company goes from self made hero, to niliistic zero, to back to self made hero, is this showing public companies as a failed experiment and sign of the times?

the political cronyism is match by the business cronyism is this chapter it seems and both are shown to be disasters. the nation makes wrong decisions, the board makes wrong decisions.

 

sounds like a theme here is society against the individual and what thought processes go into society being against the individual and what processes individuals must take to reach self made individual heros.

Edited by colin alexander
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I think you may be on to something. :)

As you'll find, Dagny thought something similar to you, and the book finds her thinking about the founder, Nat Taggart, a lot, wondering where his kind of person has gone. But, I don't want to give any of the book away for you. Read on!

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Colin Alexander: You're certainly on the right track, (no pun intended). The rampant cronyism is justified as preferable over the best value, because "friends help friends" rather than seek the self-interest. The phony loyalty portrayed in this fiction enables both business and government leaders in the short term, while ignoring the overall decline of the nation. The origins of Traggart Transcontinental are explained.

 

One regret I have regarding this epic parable is that actual market principles are not explored more thoroughly. The steel company of Orren Boyle would have suffered and eventually failed in an ideal free market, unless changes were made to become more competitive. The employees would have struggled, while Boyle would have retired. The former-employees would eventually found work, perhaps at Reardon Steel, producing the product the market wanted. My point is that, because in our real-life "Machiavellian" economy, failing companies are propped up at the expense of and with the support of successful competitors. But then, economics lessons are not so entertaining.

 

Free market principles, while far from Utopian, allow poor-performing companies to fail, and the successful competitors are allowed to keep their earnings or spend them as they wish, without forcing their investors (or the nation) out of business. The spending of the successful should be sufficient "stimulus." Rand's philosophy becomes more apparent later in the story; most of the book is an elaborate mystery/romance that allows her philosophy a proper backdrop.

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will be interesting to read of Dagny at Nat. i'm just still at the thought of "how did Nat not have the right systems in place to create a system for the company to make sure a James taggart does not have such a role in it".

 

ill have to look up these rags to rags stories in the real world and see what is found. maybe part of it's a matter of family over principle?

 

orren boyle along with james were just simply not good at what they did in chapter 1, while dagny, hank, and ellis were all good at what they do in even practical ways, let alone that the three later would used their minds and abilities.

 

i'm trying to take a approuch to this reading of chapter by chapter and creating a study guide for each chapter, and i did think this legacy ishue was key in chapter one.

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