Atlas Shrugged is a novel that was written for the purpose of expressing Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Generally speaking, barring those setbacks placed in their way by non-Objectivists, the Objectivist characters of Rand's books ultimately accomplish great things and live happy lives. The non-Objectivists, on the other hand, make one bad decision after another because of their lack of rationality and inability to see the world as it really is. This is true even when the decisions they make are extraordinarily ill-advised, like rerouting trains so that the only shipment of wheat does not make it to the East Coast, setting up many to die of hunger (Part Three, Chapter V). It almost makes it feel like the non-Objectivists in Atlas Shrugged are mere straw men.
I don't think it's true that most people are irrational at that level, or that they would continue on an irrational path when faced with utter disaster. So, I wonder if Rand meant the antagonists of her books to portray real-life non-Objectivists (meaning, she really believed them to be that stupid), or if she exaggerated their irrationalities for the purpose of illustrating her philosophy.
Did Rand think that people in the real world were that stupid?