Related: Why was Francisco d'Anconia amused by Ellis Wyatt's imminent demise?

When describing what a playboy Francisco d'Anconia had supposedly become (including throwing wild and ridiculously expensive parties, his supposed womanizing, etc.), we find the following passage:

... [Dagny Taggart] read the accounts of the business ventures he undertook at length intervals; the ventures were spectacularly successful and ruined his competitors, but he indulged in them as in an occasional sport, staging a sudden raid, then vanishing from the industrial scene for a year or two, leaving d'Anconia Copper to the management of his employees.

It turns out, of course, that he was actively destroying his company the entire time, as well as several of his competitors, Taggart Transcontinental, the Phoenix-Durango, Ellis Wyatt, and a host of other businesses.

One particularly notable example was the San Sebastian Mines incident, which both Dagny and Jim Taggart later described as a "rotten swindle." When Dagny went to see d'Anconia to confront him about the incident, she accused him of knowing full well that the mines would eventually be nationalized (and were of little value anyway):

"You knew, before you bought that property, that Mexico was in the hands of a looters' government... you knew that they'd seize those mines sooner or later. What you were after is your American stockholders."
"That's true." He was looking straight at her, he was not smiling, his face was earnest. He added, "That's part of the truth."...
"You had exhausted every other form of depravity and sought a new thrill by swindling people like Jim and his friends, in order to watch them squirm. I don't know what sort of corruption could make anyone enjoy that, but that's what you came to New York to see, at the right time."
"They certainly provided a spectacle of squirming on the grand scale. Your brother James in particular."
"They're rotten fools, but in this case their only crime was that they trusted you. They trusted your name and your honor."
Again, she saw the look of earnestness and knew with certainty that it was genuine, when he said, "Yes. They did. I know it."
"And do you find it amusing?"
"No. I don't find it amusing at all."

He was, however (as pointed out in the linked Q&A), vastly amused by the destruction of the Mexican Planners, and even more amused by the fact that Ellis Wyatt was going to be wiped out. He was also fully aware that the Phoenix-Durango railroad was wiped out as a direct result of his actions, and that Dan Conway had been forced into retirement.

Given that part of the point of the Strike in the first place was to prove that looter governments would eventually collapse when they were deprived of people to enable them, was the fact that Francisco d'Anconia (and, for that fact, Ragnar Danneskjöld) was deliberately destroying the economy contrary to that goal?

2 Answers 2


Given that part of the point of the Strike in the first place was to prove that looter governments would eventually collapse when they were deprived of people to enable them, was the fact that Francisco d'Anconia (and, for that fact, Ragnar Danneskjöld) was deliberately destroying the economy contrary to that goal?

There are two answers to that question: yes and no. Which answer you accept depends whether you accept either of two connected premises Ayn Rand 'pushed' in the book. If you don't accept them, then the answer is "Yes, and they are very hypocritical about it". If you accept one of them, the answer is "No, it makes perfect sense, they were just trying to save the thousands of innocent people by hastening the collapse."

The first idea can be summed as "If there is not the best person for the job doing it (or at least the person in top ten), the job wouldn't get done at all and the whole system will grind to a halt. And everybody knows who the best person for the job is." and that's the whole idea behind The Strike. The thing to know entertaining the idea here is that Rand never worked in a business or a corporation. She never did any scientific research either. As a rule (with certain exceptions) writing is a solitary profession. Business and scientific research are not. Businesses and scientific research are built on the work and knowledge of many individuals.

I'll get back to this idea later. The idea leads to her second idea.

The second idea is so called "impotence of evil" . Basically, the idea that evil people can create anything useful and prosper in the long term without the good guys helping them was absolutely unbelievable to Rand. It is shown in the book itself with Galt fixing the machine used to torture him. The idea is basically "the only thing evil needs to win is for the good men to do nothing to prevent it" with addition of "or to keep doing their jobs for the wrong reasons". Because evil can't create, it cannot even maintain what greater ("good") people created, not even to further its goals. It can only destroy.

Short answer: the heroes believe and the narrative that is pushed is: the world is doomed anyway, everything is going downhill quickly and the heroes want to hasten that doom so they can start the rebuilding process sooner. Basically, let the system burn down completely before rebuilding it from the ashes. Make it from 0 instead of fixing the existing one. Which is example of broken window fallacy, because it is easier to peel a few spuds off the current system than destroy and rebuild. If that is the case, then the answer is "No, destroying shipments wasn't contrary to their goals". And why didn't they use them and repurposed them for something else? Because that would have made them moochers and looters. The more interesting example is Ellis Wyat burning his oil fields, which demonstrates lack of understanding of negative externalities and would be an example of ecological terrorism.

Long answer:

In real world, sometimes people are doing jobs they are not perfect for. In fact, they sometimes are assigned tasks they are ill suited for. And they do them anyway, to the standard lower than what an expert for the job would have done, sometimes much lower, but (and this is crucial) it still somehow works. There are three possibilities: either

option 1) the task is done perfectly or

option 2)it is done badly but it still works or

option 3)it is not done at all.

If it is

1) done perfectly, everything is good with the world. That is what Randian hero would do.

If it is

2) done badly (and badly here means anything less than perfect, from barely works to slightly worse than what the best of the best would have done. Basically everything which can be improved later if you tomorrow call an expert in), it is done in such a way that after the task is finished, it still works. Not as efficiently as it would work if it was expert doing it in the first place (in fact, if expert saw it they would say it was done by rank amateur and suggest improvements immediately), but it still works. It does its designed purpose. If it doesn't, you get straight to option 3.

Option 3: The task wasn't done. Our current workers and expertise tried their best, they really did, after trying for a month they decided the task and change behind it as designed and decided is impossible to implement. That means back to the drawing board, we will have to figure something else, some workaround to the original problem which is not the current solution/task which we found that it is impossible for us to implement.

Now, that's one of the reasons immigration of the best educated and most efficient workers from the economy is bad. Your expertise is going away and your growth slows down considerably. It slows down, but it never stops completely. Why not? Because expertise and knowledge can be gained and given time and resources even the lowest worker on the assembly line can become expert in something! Which was almost anathema for Rand.

She was in love with idea of natural born geniuses without understanding technological and societal basis for innovation. Or basis and origination of societal welfare and wealth. Thus the idea that somebody could do the job badly but not badly enough that it doesn't work out in the end is impossible in that book. And that's why The Strike works. Because in the book the job is either done by the best or is not done at all. Without a few thousand supermen in power things are not getting done and are collapsing. In real world, you would replace a single superman with 3, 4 or 10 regular people and keep on going. In time, one of them will become 50% superman, or 75% superman. They might never become a genius like the original, but they would be good enough for the system to keep functioning. And growing and innovating too. In fact, there is a metric which measures whether the project will fail if one member of the organization or project team is taken out. It is called the bus factor and organizations take care to ensure continued existence if something happens to a key team member or leader (eg they get hit by a bus or join The Strike).

And because Rand didn't really understand economics and basis for wealth of society, she thought that it is better idea to burn everything to the ground and then rebuild than to just innovate and fix the problems with the existing world. The truth is, if there is big enough societal collapse, there is no quick rebuilding possible. And as Mike Rowe's "Dirtiest Jobs" show demonstrates, you need some really dirty jobs for our shiny civilization and technology to be possible. Like the picture below hints at with tongue firmly in cheek.

Like this tongue in cheek picture shows

Edit to clarify after comments, because I focused on Dagnar and background more than on Francisco: What Francisco did fits definition of industrial sabotage. And fraud. And wide definition of terrorism, e.g using fear and violence to make people change their habits and convert them to his way of thinking.

He used the weakness of quality control mechanisms (which were set up by Francisco himself) to intentionally do a subpar job which caused people to die. And he basically used the excuse every fraudster ever used to justify himself. "If they were smarter, if there was one good and smart guy among my victims, I wouldn't have been able to pull it off. They got exactly what they deserve." .

Again, keep in mind that Ayn never worked in business. And that she believed in those two things above. And that she decided to make the world and characters intentionally archetypal, sharper than they would be realistically, all to prove the point. I'll again compare real world and the world of the book and this is going to be a long edit, so...

In real world, contractors are not just chosen according to their price and their needs. When the project is made and contractors chosen, minimal standards of quality are decided on before choosing the contractors to do the jobs. Even after choosing the contractor, there are minimal standards of quality that their work has to fulfill to be accepted and contractors paid. There are multiple control mechanisms which check for defects, workarounds and shoddy work. The contractor is forced to fix defects found before the work is accepted as good and the next phase of the project begins. Once the final phase of the project is complete, there is final sets of checks which says "Yes, this work is done and it can now be open to the public. " or "No, you need to fix these major problems before it can be allowed. These minor problems can stand."

There is penalty for every major defect found and for every day the project is late.

Now, we get back to her "impotence of evil" theory. In the book Francisco intentionally hired the worst contractor he could find. He intentionally crippled every quality control mechanism, by firing any competent person from the Quality control commission and by bullying any competent worker of contractor he hired to do subpar work. In his mind, Francisco is doing exactly what the looters are doing. In his mind, he is following the principles of the looters to the letter. "If there was one truly good and competent among them, that person would stand up to Francisco" Ayn says. The only way the evil can win is if the good people do nothing and let themselves be bullied - she says. Except, Francisco is one of Ayn's supermen. If there existed superman to oppose him, he would have instead joined him on moral principles else he wouldn't be superman!

Francisco is wrong. Ayn wants to have her cake and eat it too. There is a difference between doing something bad unintentionally, from incompetence and doing something from pure malice. Ayn wanted to prove that planners are incompetent, even when they think they are acting rationally.

She chose to prove it by planting the saboteur at the highest level of the enterprise who doesn't act rationally. Unless you know he is saboteur and fraud, then his behavior makes perfect sense. Keep in mind, the victim of a fraud often finds out it was tricked only after the fact. Then all that weird behavior you dismissed earlier starts to make sense. Those were the warning signs you chose to ignore and have suffered for it.

So, genealogy of the fraud which potentially left thousands of people dead and hundreds of people ruined from the point of view of defrauded businessman:

Francisco, a man who up to that point always turned profit in all his business endeavors, starts gathering money to buy some mountains and build a settlement. He is in copper mining business, so you logically assume that he found some rich vein of copper there. He always acted rationally before, he always worked with a profit motive and his self interest at heart, he is a trusted member of the community. Investing in him was always a sure bet (Rand emphasizes that point multiple times). Asked for a few investments, some people you trust invested in him. You ask for details. He provides them to you. You invest in him too.

He starts working on his project. A few months later, the project is a failure and it turns out Francisco sabotaged it. He ruined himself and the other people intentionally. A year before starting the project, he joined some "End of the world" cult and has decided to get rid of all his worldly possessions so he can join Heaven. Nobody knew about that before investing else they wouldn't have invested in him. When asked why did he do that, he replies "If you weren't so rotten and fallen, you would have been able to stop me. This proves that I am right and just, that I am one of the chosen ones. Heaven's gates are now wide open for me. And all of you got exactly what you deserved, sinners as you are, this is just punishment for your sins!"

"But thousands of innocent people have died! Miners and their families! Children died." You reply weakly.

"If they were smart people and true believers, they would have noticed all the shortcuts I have used, all the defects, all the shoddy workmanship. They were sinners, all of them, enablers! Each and every one! They got what they deserve!" Francisco replies, his eyes burning with the fire of fanaticism.

When put like that, it makes just as much sense as his explanation. And that's what the scam was, if you look away from the text a bit and assume that the two principles Ayn Rand pushed in the book do not quite hold up to scrutiny. And that heroes are not quite reliable. But that would be breaking the suspension of disbelief. You can read the quotes in the answer below.

  • Excellent points. One point, though (and I'm curious as to your opinion of this) - Francisco at least claims to have been following the Looter morality literally (e.g. in hiring a third-rate mining specialist because he really needed a job, and according to the morality of the day his need was more important than his ability). Any thoughts on whether he's right, and if so if that would reduce the apparent hypocrisy? Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 4:38
  • @EJoshuaS oh, I focused on Dagnar. I wasn't even talking about mines, that one is special case of evil but my answer was running long as it is. Basically, his answer is the one every thief or fraud would give you "If they didn't want me taking it, they would have locked the door with better lock." or "If they weren't so greedy, I would not have been able to trick them." I'll edit my answer to make it more clear.
    – jo1storm
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 6:15
  • 1
    One of the plot points in the novel was that only the most highly efficient and capable of the business leaders were able to overcome the burdens that the government was placing on all producers everywhere (high taxes, insane regulations, and the near-complete abrogation of the rule of law). For instance, getting Hank Reardon to quit was a fatal blow to the steel industry precisely because the environment was so hostile to the industry that only he could cope.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 2:46
  • 1
    Yes, it is a big problem when businesses lobby government in order to have the market distorted in their favor. Rand preached against this very thing throughout the whole work (and outside of it). Rearden paid his lobbyist to keep the government off of his back, and nothing more, whereas his competitors hired lobbyists in order to get subsidies and what-not.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 3:33
  • 2
    Not interested in continuing this, and comments aren't for debating anyway.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 3:43

In addition to the good points that @jo1storm made, I'll add a few thoughts.

The book makes it clear that this was malicious compliance. Francisco d'Anconia was following the morality of the day to the hilt. He had the following discussion with James Taggart about the mines:

"I'm entitled to an explanation! You owe your stockholders an account of the whole disgraceful affair! Why did you pick a worthless mine? Why did you waste all those millions? What sort of rotten swindle was it?"
Francisco stood looking at him in polite astonishment. "Why, James," he said, "I thought you would approve of it."
"I thought you would consider the San Sebastian Mines as the practical realization of an ideal of the highest moral order. Remembering that you and I have disagreed so often in the past, I thought you would be gratified to see me acting in accordance with your principles."
"What are you talking about?"
Francisco shook his head regretfully. "I don't know why you should call my behavior rotten. I thought you would recognize it as an honest effort to practice what the whole world is preaching. Doesn't everyone believe that it is evil to be selfish? I was totally selfless in regard to the San Sebastian project. Isn't it evil to pursue a personal interest? I had no personal interest in it whatever. Isn't it evil to work for a profit? I did not work for a profit - I took a loss. Doesn't everyone agree that the purpose and justification of an industrial enterprise are not production, but the livelihood of its employees? The San Sebastian Mines were the most eminently successful venture in industrial history: they produced no copper, but they provided a livelihood for thousands of men who could not have achieved in a lifetime, the equivalent of what they got for one day's work, which they could not do. Isn't it generally agreed that an owner is a parasite and an exploiter, that it is the employees who do all the work and make the product possible? I did not exploit anyone. I did not burden the San Sebastian Mines with my useless presence; I left them in the hands of the men who count. I did not pass judgment on the value of that property. I turned it over to a mining specialist. He was not a very good specialist, but he needed a job very badly. Isn't it generally conceded that when you hire a man for a job, it is his need that counts, not his ability? Doesn't everyone believe that in order to get the goods, all you have to do is need them? I have carried out every moral precept of our age. I expected gratitude and a citation of honor. I do not understand why I am being damned."

There you have it: the San Sebastian Mines was one more example of the outcome of following the Looter morality literally.

Earlier, when he discussed the situation with Dagny, he told her that

"... your brother James and his friends knew nothing about the copper-mining industry. They knew nothing about making money. They did not consider it necessary to learn. They considered knowledge superfluous and judgment inessential... They thought it was safe to ride on my brain, because they assumed that the goal of my journey was wealth. All their calculations rested on the premise that I wanted to make money. What if I didn't?"
"If you didn't, what did you want?"
"They never asked me that. Not to inquire about my aims, motives or desires is an essential part of their theory."

He also compared it to "tearing the lid off hell and letting men see it."

He also pointed out that it really didn't make a difference whether he did the whole thing on purpose or through neglect or stupidity - the same thing was missing no matter what (his mind).

It's also important to recall what prompted the investments in the first place:

When Francisco d'Anconia suddenly bought miles of bare mountains in Mexico, news leaked out that he had discovered vast deposits of copper. He made no effort to sell stock in his venture; the stock was begged out of his hand, and he merely chose those whom he wished to favor from among the applicants.

At the Taggart Transcontinental board meetings to discuss their proposed line to Mexico,

They spoke about the future importance of the trade with Mexico, about the rich stream of freight, about the large revenues assured to the exclusive carrier of an inexhaustible supply of copper. They proved it by citing Francisco d'Anconia's past achievements. They didn't mention any mineralogical facts about the San Sebastian Mines. Few were available; the information which d'Anconia had released were not very specific; but they did not seem to need facts.

There you have it: while he was (by his own admission) deliberately trying to wipe out his American stockholders and the Mexican planners, he did so by following their morality to the letter. As for the Taggart Transcontinental line and the investments from people like James Taggart, they did that of their own accord without bothering to find out anything concrete about the mines themselves or why Francisco was investing in them in the first place. The secondary consequences (e.g. the destruction of the Phoenix-Durango Railroad) were instigated by James Taggart. (Granted, it was the direct result of their losses in the San Sebastian Mines, but it was still James Taggart who did it).

So, there was no contradictions. Everything was done in accord with the Looters' code, and the consequences were the direct result of that fact.

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