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"Atlas Shrugged" Mention In WSJ.

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ggdwill
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Below is a review of "Open Business Models" that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on December 21st of last year. Below that is my letter to the editor of The Journal critical of the reviewer's use of "Atlas Shrugged." It was not published.

Ideas For The Taking by Lawrence J. Siskind,

When Francisco D'Anconia in "Atlas Shrugged" decided that enough was enough, he engineered the destruction of his mining empire. In a marvel of synchronization, every mind, dock and ship was blown up at the very moment that the government was voting to nationalize his business. If Bill Gates decided to emulate Ayn Rand's hero, he would face a tougher challenge. If he blew up every plant, warehouse and office building of the world's greatest software company, Microsoft would then be... the world's greatest software company.

The difference is that D'Anconia Copper was based on tangible property, while Microsoft is based on intangible intellectual property (IP). Destroy every single Windows CD in inventory and Microsoft would remain the only company that could legally make and market new ones.

Henry Chesbrough, the directory of the Center for Open Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, is not the first academic to grasp the superior economic value of intellectual over tangible property in today's economy. But he may be the one who has thought most deeply about its consequences for business.

........... The remainder of the review discusses the points made in the book regarding the different approaches businesses take towards intellectual property. Some undervalue it greatly and some use it to the best of it's potential. While certainly interesting, nothing thereafter is directly relevant to Objectivism.

Here is my letter:

Dear Editor,

Because "Atlas Shrugged" gets so desperately few mentions in the mainstream media, I would like to take issue with Lawrence J. Siskind's that is used in his review of "Open Business Models" (Personal Journal Section, December 21st).

Francisco D'Anconia's destruction of his copper mines was not an isolated incident. It was done knowing that simultaneously the novel's other protagonist was carrying out a plan of his own. The central, unavoidable theme of the novel is John Galt's campaign of persuasion directed at the remaining producers of wealth to leave their corrupted society behind.

That these two characters had similar, yet distinct, tasks was no accident. John Galt dealt with the essential ingredient for a successful society - let alone a successful business: ability - not property. Among other, larger notions, he freed these men from the notion that what they owned was theirs only because of society's acknowledgment of it. D'Anconia merely mopped up what he could afterwards. No character in "Atlas Shrugged" ever lifted a finger to protect the sanctity of private property - tangible or not - and by doing so it became unraveled.

A company could possess all of the property in the world but without men and women of ability, they will have nothing. The difference between political acknowledgment and economic ability is very real. The source and maintenance of a company's wealth - tangible or intangible - is not a government's legal protection of it, but rather the ability to produce it.

Grant Williams

Orlando, Florida

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hmmm. I'm not sure what you are taking issue with. what claim is it that the author made that you are taking issue with?

I pulled up the article and read it. I understand what the basis of the article is, and I don't disagree with the premise of the book per se.

I would agree that it is a terribly clumsy usage of Atlas Shrugged to introduce the book. Are you concerned that it was misrepresented?

Maybe a much clearer connection to the book review would have been discussing John Galt's employers failure to exploit the wonderful motor he invented. That is clearly a case of intellectual property not being effectively managed.

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I believe that "Atlas Shrugged" is too profound of a book to be treated so lightly. The reviewer revealed the shallowness of his understanding of the book with his D'Anconia copper anecdote. Like I said in my letter, the root of all wealth - tangible and intangible - is intelligence. He implies, probably unintentionally, that it is merely that property is protected by government that maintains it's value. The people that keep Microsoft going are not replaceable cogs that could be substituted with other cogs at any moment. They are unique, highly-qualified, sophisticated individuals who's talents take years to develop and apply successfully.

So not only is the reviewer wrong about what would (or would not) happen to Microsoft should Bill Gates "shrug", but he fails to communicate the central theme of Ayn Rand's novel: the role of the individual's mind in productive endeavors.

- Grant

Edited by ggdwill
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