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Who is Henry Galt?

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Tags Big GovernmentMedia and CultureEntrepreneurship

Fortune takes note of the "crumbling infrastructure" and suggests that Randian capitalists might come to the rescue (the article is confused and meandering so no reason to ponder the thesis completely). But it does remind me of the book I just read last week, one I thought was just over-the-top wonderful: The Driver, by Garet Garrett.

It is set at the tail end of the Gilded Age, when railroads were being taxed and regulated to the point that they were losing money, even as their loses were being picked up by the taxpayer and the railroads being made public property. Along comes a shadowy speculator named Henry Galt, about whom everyone has previously asked: "Who is Henry Galt." He emerges into public view by buying out a railroad and gaining total control of it. He spends like crazy for upgrades and reroutes and generally does an amazing job in turning losses to profits. He then moves on to acquire more enterprises until he becomes a member of the super-rich, while working that mad. It is a thrilling story, complete with a detailed description of why bi-metallism didn't work.

But he makes a few too many people angry in the process. The FTC, his competitors, and Congress put him on trial. He is even arrested! But in some thrilling testimony that explains the role of the speculator and capitalist, during which time the railroad stock begins rising again, he is ultimately vindicated.

This is just a wonderful book. In fact, I read it in two 4-hour sessions, and I didn't want it to end. Another 200 or 300 pages would have been much welcome. Garrett is a wonderful stylist and he understands markets like few 20th century novelists.

You might be wondering about the unusual parallels with Atlas Shrugged. Wonder all you want. There is no real way to answer the question. But it is a fact that The Driver came out in 1922.

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