Who was Ayn Rand the person and how did her powerful charisma capture an ardent following that shaped an enduring philosophy of capitalism as protecting individualism? In this week’s episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts and Stanford’s Jennifer Burns discuss the life influences of this iconic historical figure as well as the extensive reach of her writings today. They also explore the process Burns took to write this biography about the infamous author of The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and more.

1. Have you read Rand? If so, when did you first come across her works? What was your experience with her texts, and to what extent did the your “when” influence your reading experience? 2. Consider the many challenges of building a following in 1960’s New York as an outsider to U.S. politics and academia. How did Ayn Rand’s “Collective”, or inner circle of intellectuals help to build her true individualist, solitary persona while at the same time extend her international recognition? Can we liken the “Age of Entourage” to today’s age of Instagram/Twitter fame? Would The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have sold as well absent the author identity?

3. Murray Rothbard apparently recognized immediately that Rand represented a “grand paradox” in requiring friends and followers to suppress their own individuality in order to support her specific idea of what individualism was. How unique was Rand in her intellectual rigidity? To what historic or contemporary figures can she be compared?

4. Burns points out the convenience of Rand’s use of fiction as a means for portraying the positive side of self-interest and the control her characters exhibited over their destinies. Roberts notes the lack of altruistic emphasis in Rand’s moral defense of capitalism, as she not only feared state coercion but denied the negative side of self-interest. Was Rand ultimately an optimist? Why or why not?

Alice Temnick teaches Economics at the United Nations International School in New York City. She is an Economics examiner for the International Baccalaureate, teaches for the Foundation for Teaching Economics and Oxford Studies Courses and is a long-time participant in Liberty Fund Conferences.