You Didn't Build That
I was on a Zoom discussion on Friday put on by the Atlas Society, an organization whose employees and contributors subscribe in various degrees to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. David Kelley, who ran the discussion, noted that we are coming up next month to the 65th anniversary of the publication of Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. It was published on October 10, 1957.
The discussion caused me to go back to my dog-eared copy and reread various passages I had noted. Between now and October 10, I’ll highlight some of my favorite passages.
Here’s one that caught my eye Sunday morning. It’s a statement by James Taggart, one of the villains in the novel, about Hank Rearden, who has invented Rearden Metal, which is much more durable than steel:
He didn’t invent smelting and chemistry and air compression. He couldn’t have invented his Metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. His Metal! Why does he think it’s his? Why does he think it’s his invention? Everybody uses the work of everybody else. Nobody ever invents anything.
The person talking to Taggart, Cherryl Brooks quickly points out that all those other things were there for quite a while and asks, “Why didn’t anybody else make that Metal, but Mr. Rearden did?”
In short, Brooks gets that there’s a division of labor without which Rearden could not have invented Rearden Metal. But none of that means that he didn’t invent Rearden Metal.
This passage, which I first read when I was 17, reminds me of President Obama’s famous 2012 statement to business people and entrepreneurs: “You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”