Once upon a time, hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert was living a Wall Street fairy tale. His fairy godmother was Ayn Rand, the dashing diva of free-market ideology whose quirky economic notions would transform him into a glamorous business hero.
For a while, it seemed to work like a charm. Pundits called him the “Steve Jobs of the investment world.” The new Warren Buffett. By 2006 he was flying high, the richest man in Connecticut, managing over $15 billion thorough his hedge fund, ESL Investments.
Stoked by his Wall Street success, Lampert plunged headlong into the retail world. Undaunted by his lack of industry experience and hailed a genius, Lampert boldly pushed to merge Kmart and Sears with a layoff and cost-cutting strategy that would, he promised, send profits into the stratosphere. Meanwhile the hotshot threw cash around like an oil sheikh, buying a $40 million pad in Florida’s Biscayne Bay, a record even for that star-studded county.
Fast-forward to 2013: The fairy tale has become a nightmare.
Go read the whole thing. If it weren't for all the jobs at stake (fun fact: my very first job was at a Sears in the Maine Mall) this would be a near-perfect dose of schadenfreude. Rand fans, of course, will argue that Lampert wasn't a demonstration of pure Objectivist thought. That's exactly what they argued when Alan Greenspan nearly destroyed the economy by trying to transform America into Ayn Rand's economic paradise. And that's what makes Ayn Rand's philosophy so tough to erase. It will never exist in the real world, because the world in Rand's childish fictions is too simple-minded to exist. This gives Objectivists a kind of parachute that allows them to distance themselves from spectacular flame-outs like Greenspan and Lampert: They weren't pure enough. Then they cast their eyes to the next great Randian hope hurtling down the runway, rushing toward certain doom.