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John Galt was a genius. He invented "the motor" and executed the greatest strike in world history. And it's clear that he understood the danger he was always in (out in the world) and how the looters operate.

So it has always been puzzling to me why, at the end of Atlas Shrugged, Galt thought it was a good idea to go back to the world so quickly after the final crash and bring all the strikers with him.

Granted, the lights had gone out in NYC, the Taggart bridge had collapsed, and the nation was near starvation. But the political leaders such as Mr. Thompson and all his cronies were still--at least to some degree--in power.

If the strikers had come back and started fixing everything, why would anyone believe that Thompson's gang wouldn't have immediately started exploiting them, regulating them, taxing them to death, and controlling them? I would have thought that the strikers needed to wait long enough for the current government leaders to be swept from power and run out of town, clearing the way for the strikers' return.

Rand makes it clear that the strikers cared little for political power, so we cannot assume that upon their return they would have tried to step into the shoes of political power in order to achieve their goals. They simply would have gone back to work, and once again been exploited by the looting politicians.

Admittedly, we don't know how much time passed between the rescue flight back from the State Science Institute and the moon-lit walk in the valley in which Galt declares to Dagney that "we're going back", but it certainly seems as though very little time had elapsed. Weeks? Days?

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We're not told exactly how much time passed, but I agree with you - it doesn't seem like a lot of time in the book. The book glosses over the details of what happened in the interim. John Galt is also admittedly somewhat vague as to why he thought that it was time to go back:

They could not see the world beyond the mountains, there was only a void of darkness and rock, but the darkness was hiding the ruins of a continent: the roofless homes, the rusting tractors, the lightless streets, the abandoned rail But far in the distance, on the edge of the earth, a small flame was waving in the wind, the defiantly stubborn flame of Wyatt's Torch, twisting, being torn and regaining its hold, not to be uprooted or extinguished. It seemed to be calling and waiting for the words John Galt was now to pronounce.
"The road is cleared," said Galt. "We are going back to the world."

It's a little vague as to exactly why he thought that the road was cleared (just that he thought that it was), but we can make a few inferences. First, the text doesn't actually explicitly state that Mr. Thompson was still in power; it's actually reasonable to assume that he wasn't (or, at least, that he was so thoroughly discredited by John Galt's radio speech, John's actions at the state dinner where he was supposed to pretend cooperation, John's successful escape, and the mass chaos following the destruction of the Taggart Bridge that having him removed wouldn't be too hard):

The plane was above the peaks of the skyscrapers when suddenly, with the abruptness of a shudder, as if the ground had parted to engulf it, the city disappeared from the face of the earth. It took them a moment to realize that the panic had reached the power stations - and that the lights of New York had gone out.

In fact, that moment was one of the major goals of the Strike:

[Dagny] remembered the story Francisco had told her: "He had quit the Twentieth Century. He was living in a garret in a slum neighborhood. He stepped to the window and pointed to the skyscrapers of the city. He said that we had to extinguish the lights of the world, and when we would see the lights of New York go out, we would know that our job was done."... She knew that now, at this hour, their plane was carrying all that was left of New York City.

Also, many of the Looters themselves (like Jim Taggart) had finally realized the truth (or, like Orren Boyle, had been incapacitated and/or bankrupted). There's also a strong possibility that some of the Looters died in the aftermath of the bridge collapse; for example, it's strongly implied that Hank Rearden's family may well have starved to death. (This is as opposed to, for example, the Looters and the people who formed armed and apparently at least somewhat self-sufficient camps after John Galt's speech, who presumably would've been preserved from that kind of a fate).

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