James "Jim" Taggart (1977-2020?), in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was President of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. But instead of being a productive businessman, James Taggart sought to profit by obtaining and trading various government favors. But his actual motive was not so much the effective mulcting of the public, or even of businessmen more productive than he. His motive was the destruction of the productive, a motive that stemmed entirely from jealousy. He carefully hid that motive even from himself, until the day came when he caught himself attempting to inflict pain on another man when that act had no profit in it. On that day, he suffered a complete neuropsychiatric collapse. Whether he lived or died immediately after that, is unclear.
Taggart is an example of a corporatist businessman of the sort who nearly destroyed British industry under the system that operated from 1945 until the election of Margaret Thatcher.
James Taggart was born in 1977, the son of the President of the TTRR and the descendant of Nathaniel Taggart, the original founder. But even as a child he showed that he was not made of the same stuff of which Nathaniel Taggart was made.
His sister Dagny definitely was, and he knew it and resented it. He once told her that, though she was named after their (great) grandmother Dagny, wife of Nathaniel, in temperament she better resembled Nathaniel than Old Dagny. Young Dagny took that as a compliment, a thing that James Taggart perhaps never understood.
One particular episode from their adolescence both illustrated his attitude and served as a prelude to things to come. His father made him a present of a motorboat, and the dockmaster at the Taggart family compound started to teach him how to drive it. The lesson did not go well. Then, in frustration, James turned to Francisco d'Anconia, a boy nearly three years younger than he who was visiting at the time, and challenged him to drive the motorboat. Francisco not only drove it; he demonstrated almost as much proficiency as an adult might be expected to have. James Taggart resented that encounter, and Francisco, ever since.
James Taggart attended college at the age of sixteen. When he graduated (1998), he took his first job with the railroad—in its Public Relations department. In sharp contrast, his sister Dagny, five years his junior, started working as a night telephone operator at a local railroad station. From there she would work her way through the Operating Department.
The San Sebastián Line
James Taggart became President of the TTRR on September 2, 2011. One of his first acts was to start extending the railroad's Texas line south to Mexico—the San Sebastián Line. Recently, Francisco d'Anconia had started to drive mines in the Sierra Madre mountains. No reputable geologist suspected that he would find anything of value there. But Jim Taggart trusted Francisco's business judgment and planned the San Sebastián Line to take advantage of it. (Francisco d'Anconia had inherited his family's copper mining empire, D'Anconia Copper SA of Argentina, in 2003.) The People's State of Mexico granted the TTRR a 200-year guarantee of its property rights.
The Vice-President in Charge of Operations resigned immediately. So did two members of the Board of Directors, and possibly the chief engineer (though he might have resigned separately). Jim Taggart slogged on, but progress on the San Sebastián Line stalled, with delay after delay.
Ironically, Dagny Taggart solved the problem of the San Sebastián Line for Jim. On September 15, 2014, she gave Jim an ultimatum: make her Vice-President of Operations at once, or accept her resignation. She had been doing the work of the ineffectual interim Operating Vice-Presidents since 2011, so Jim acquiesced. Not long afterward, Dagny found a contractor who finished the San Sebastián Line within a year. It opened on New Year's Day, 2016.
The Rio Norte Line and the Phoenix-Durango
The year 2016 found James Taggart faced with a difficult business situation—one made difficult by his own actions and attitudes, though he refused to admit it to himself. The Rio Norte Line, that served Colorado, had fallen into disrepair, so much so that wrecks on the line were frequent, and the TTRR could not make a proper shipping schedule. Mr. Dan Conway, the upstart head of the rival Phoenix-Durango Railroad, was already taking customers away from the TTRR, because its line was newer and in better condition.
James Taggart had given an order for a new track to his friend Orren Boyle, head of Associated Steel. That was back in August of 2015. Orren Boyle still had not filled that order, thirteen months later. Nevertheless, Orren was Jim's friend, and Jim was determined to "give him a break."
Dagny was having none of that. She overrode him and replaced the track order with Henry Rearden's steel company. Not only that, but she ordered the rail made of Rearden Metal, the new alloy of copper and iron that Rearden had invented.
Jim traveled to Washington, DC to apologize to Orren. While there, he engineered two deals that he felt certain would solve his business problem and place Henry Rearden at less of an advantage. One of these deals was the "Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule," whereby no railroad was allowed to enter a territory that another railroad was already serving. In proposing this rule, the National Association of Railroads recalled the ruinous "rate wars" of the last centuries. The actual target was the Phoenix-Durango, which in nine months would have to cease operations in Colorado, because his presence there was in violation of the Rule.
The second was the Equalization of Opportunity Act, which would provide that no businessman would be allowed to be in more than one business at any given time. The target of this Act was Henry Rearden, who in addition to owning a steel company, also owned an iron ore mine and a coal mine, so that he would not have to buy ore or coal on the open market. As part of the negotiation for this deal, Jim had to make some promises to one Wesley Mouch, who was Henry Rearden's Washington lobbyist, not to warn Rearden that any such thing was in the offing. The promises involved getting Mouch a job with the Thompson administration.
During these discussions, Orren Boyle complained to Jim about service on the San Sebastián Line. Orren's complaint was that the TTRR was running only one passenger train a day, in antiquated rolling stock pulled by a wood-burning steam locomotive. Appalled, Jim promised to take care of the problem when he returned to New York.
Back in New York, Jim challenged Dagny about the service cutbacks. Dagny defended them, and also stated that she was moving everything of value out of Mexico as fast as she could, in the fear that the People's State of Mexico would nationalize the railroad line and the San Sebastián Mines that they served.
As Dagny predicted, the Mexicans did nationalize the San Sebastián Railroad, and the mines. In response, Jim took full credit for the service cutbacks and the near-total evacuation. But what shocked him even more was the discovery that the San Sebastián Mines were worthless. That could only mean that Francisco d'Anconia had deliberately driven a mine into a mountain that could yield no useful minerals. Jim was heavily invested in D'Anconia Copper SA, and considered that Francisco d'Anconia owed him and the other stockholders an explanation for such foolish behavior. Francisco offered none, except to say that he had entered into the project for charitable motives, and hired men who needed work, regardless of their ability to perform—all the sorts of things that Jim's moral code called for, and none of which he could argue with.
The Rearden Metal Controversy
In the middle of the project to reclaim the Rio Norte Line, the State Science Institute issued a report calling the claims for Rearden Metal "inconclusive." Many workers refused to work on the project, the railroad's stock crashed, and Jim left New York to flee from the publicity. Dagny found him and told him that she personally would renovate the Rio Norte Line and raise her own money to do it. She said that she would call the line the John Galt Line, recalling the question, "Who is John Galt?" that people often asked in despair or sarcasm in the context of the sick national economy. Dagny made only one demand of Jim:
|“||There is one thing that you can do for me, and you'd better do it: keep your Washington boys off. See to it that I get all the permissions, easements, and other waste paper that their laws require. Don't let them stop me. If they try...People say that our ancestor, Nathaniel Taggart, killed a politician for refusing a permission that he should never have had to ask. I don't know whether that's true or not, but I can tell you one thing: I know exactly how he felt about it, if he did. And if he didn't, I just might be minded to do it today to complete the legend. I mean it, Jim.||”|
Not knowing whether Dagny was serious, Jim complied.
Creation and Destruction
The John Galt Line, with its rails and even an entire bridge made of Rearden Metal, opened on July 22, 2017, with a highly successful first run. Again Jim was able to take credit for it in the public mind, so much so that a young woman, Cherryl Brooks, actually fell in love with him because she thought that he was the productive genius behind the line.
Jim saw in Cherryl a woman trying to better herself, a thing with which he had no patience. And he saw a way to make her pay for that error: he would marry her and make abundantly clear that she could never be good enough to be a railroad president's wife. And so he courted her and eventually proposed to her.
In the meantime, he saw the economic boom that Colorado was enjoying, due entirely to the excellent transportation afforded by the John Galt Line, now once again part of the TTRR system. And he determined, with the help of a number of unions and other like-minded organizations, to destroy it—by proposing a series of burdensome and often contradictory regulations.
The regulations went through in November of 2017. They produced the result that Jim Taggart had hoped for. But not all the results were as he predicted. The most spectacular result was one that worried him, at least to some degree: Ellis Wyatt, who had developed a method for extracting oil from shale, set fire to his oil fields and vanished without a trace. Those fields, referred to as "Wyatt's Torch," continued to burn for the rest of the period in the narrative.
The Stock Crash
James Taggart married Cherryl Brooks on September 2, 2018. He invited all the great power brokers, and many businessmen, to his reception. Henry Rearden showed up, as did Dagny and Francisco d'Anconia. Jim Taggart offered a toast to the overthrow of the aristocracy of money, and Francisco made some crack about "the aristocracy of pull" which, he said, had replaced it.
Worse than that was Francisco's loud declaration that many of his mines had gone bust and that he faced insolvency. Jim was horrified. Francisco blew him off with another insouciant remark, this time saying that he was doing only the sort of thing that Jim would have wanted to see him do. Jim, Orren Boyle, and several others rushed out of the reception, in a vain attempt to contact their stockbrokers and bail out of D'Anconia Copper SA before it crashed.
In April of 2019, James Taggart was in Washington once again, in the office of Wesley Mouch, who now was the senior coordinator of the Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources. With him were Orren Boyle; Mr. Clem Weatherby (also of the BEPNR); Fred Kinnon, head of Amalgamated Labor of America; Floyd Ferris of the State Science Institute; and Mr. Thompson, the Head of State. After a round of complaints about economic conditions, Mr. Thompson gave his assent to the promulgation of Directive 10-289, an emergency regulation designed to freeze all economic activity at then-current levels. Jim Taggart's chief contribution to this was the recommendation that all science and engineering departments at all major universities would close, to satisfy Point Four of the Directive, which provided that no new inventions would be brought on-line. Floyd Ferris relished the idea of being the employer of last resort for "those who prove[d] cooperative" among university faculty.
But by far the most important implication of Directive 10-289 was the requirement that all recent inventions be turned over to the public domain through the use of "gift certificates." Floyd Ferris expressed his concern that "the guiltless man" would prove intractable in this regard. But Jim Taggart had an answer to that, too: he could prove that Henry Rearden and his sister Dagny had been having an affair (information that he had from Henry's wife Lillian), and such information would be quite valuable for blackmail. He won an increase in freight rates from the sale of this information.
The Directive took effect on May 1, 2019. Dagny, furious, marched into Jim's office, threw a newspaper at him, and said,
|“||There's my resignation, Jim. I won't work as a slave, or as a slave driver.||”|
Jim hired a friend of his, one Clifton Locey, to replace Dagny. He little knew how disastrous an appointment that would be.
The Taggart Tunnel Collapse
In the second week in May, Mr. Charles "Chick" Morrison, another Washington official, went on a "whistlestop tour" of the country. He demanded a Diesel-electric engine for his train. How Clifton Locey found one, Jim did not know, nor did he inquire.
Then in the early morning of May 28, 2019, Jim was awakened when Mr. Kip Chalmers, traveling to California to seek election to the Legislature from that State, sent him an angry telegram from Winston, Colorado:
|“||Am held up on the Comet [the TTRR's transcontinental flagship] at Winston, Colorado, due to the incompetence of your men, who refuse to give me an engine. Have meeting in California of vital national importance. If you do not move my train at once, I'll let you guess the consequences. Kip Chalmers.||”|
Jim called Locey and roared at him, saying that he'd never heard of the Comet being held up, and at least when Dagny ran the Operations department, Jim "wasn't awakened in the middle of the night over every spike that broke in Iowa—Colorado, I mean!" Locey assured him that he would take care of the matter as soon as possible.
But when Jim came into the office, he received with horror the news of the destruction of the Taggart Tunnel and the loss of the Comet (with everyone aboard) and an Army munitions train. This time, when Jim tried to contact Locey, Locey was unavailable, apparently with some kind of medical condition. Jim first drafted his own letter of resignation, and then rushed to Dagny's old office (he no longer thought of it by any other name) and roared at her assistant, Eddie Willers, demanding that he tell where she had gone. In the middle of his tirade, Dagny returned. Jim rushed back to his office, destroyed his letter of resignation, and let Dagny handle matters with no further interference.
Dagny's Second Disappearance
That night, Dagny announced her intention to travel west, again toward Colorado, to supervise the laying of track to complete a new route that would bypass the now-destroyed Taggart Tunnel. Three days later came a report that Dagny Taggart had last been seen flying into the Rocky Mountains in a monoplane, and was long overdue. Search-and-rescue authorities listed her as missing and believed dead. With her disappearance, all plans for laying new track came to nothing.
The Railroad Unification Plan
During the month of June, Jim Taggart negotiated the Railroad Unification Plan, under which all railroads would pool their revenues and be paid according to the track they owned. The TTRR stood to gain tremendously from this Plan, because the TTRR owned more track than anyone. However, Jim took a significant amount of schadenfreude from the news that the president of the rival Atlantic Southern Railroad committed suicide. But one part of the Plan annoyed Jim, though only slightly: Cuffy Meigs, the Director of Unification, would often reroute or even cancel trains to serve his own friends. Jim wished that Cuffy Meigs would find other ways to grease the skids for his friends, but he couldn't complain, so long as the revenues poured in.
On June 29, 2019, Dagny "returned from the dead." She refused to say where she had been in the last month. Jim and his friend Lillian Rearden induced Dagny to appear on Bertram Scudder's radio show to explain that she had not simply quit and vanished, as so many others had done, and to extol the "virtue" shown by Henry Rearden in signing away his right in Rearden Metal.
To their horror, Dagny proceeded to tell a national radio audience that she and Henry Rearden had been having an affair, and that the only reason why Henry Rearden had signed that "gift certificate" was blackmail. Bertram Scudder threw down her microphone when she said that, but the damage was done. Shortly thereafter, Bertram Scudder no longer had a radio program.
On August 5, 2019, a man named Ramirez headed a movement to turn Chile into a People's State. As part of this, he proposed to nationalize D'Anconia Copper SA. One of his aides, Rodrigo Gonzalez, created a special holding company (Interneighborly Amity and Development Corporation) that would receive all the D'Anconia assets, and invited Jim Taggart and his friends to invest. Jim invested heavily, as did Orren Boyle, who became president of the new firm.
That night, Jim Taggart received a visitor at his New York City townhouse: Lillian Rearden. She demanded his help in thwarting a divorce action that Henry Rearden's attorneys were bringing. Through various means that the novel never explains, Henry's lawyers were on the point of succeeding in not only dissolving the marriage, but also ensuring that Lillian would receive no alimony. She had thought about seeking help from Bertram Scudder, but that man was now in total disgrace and unable to help anyone.
Jim Taggart probably couldn't help her even if he wanted to. But in the process of their conversation, the two of them began to talk about their respective motives for their actions. Lillian admitted freely that she sought to destroy Henry Rearden; Jim Taggart vociferously denied having any such motive. Lillian, who by now was getting drunk, called him a coward, and then spilled her drink on herself. Jim started to blot away the spill, and soon the two were intimate, though the novel suggests that they had no emotional attachment between then.
Cherryl Taggart's Death
After Lillian had left, Jim's wife Cherryl returned to the townhouse. (She had left the townhouse earlier; Jim might or might not have learned that she'd been paying his sister a visit.) Somehow she had reason to suspect that Lillian had visited and that she and Jim had been imtimate. Jim brazenly avowed the tryst and said that Cherryl could do nothing about it, and Jim would never allow her a divorce. Cherryl ended by accusing him of being a killer for the sake of killing, and before Jim could reply to that, she screamed and left the townhouse for the last time.
Jim learned later that she had jumped into the East River. He briefly visited Dagny, not so much seeking sympathy as to hold himself blameless in her death. Dagny ordered him away, and the two of them never spoke of Cherryl Taggart again.
The D'Anconia Copper Debacle
On September 2, he asked Dagny into his office, where he began to make a speech complaining that, despite the Railroad Unification Plan and all his deal-making, Taggart Transcontinental was losing money. As he continued to talk to Dagny, he became increasingly agitated, and finally roared at her that she ought to help him in his role as President of the TTRR, because he was her brother. Dagny responded by quietly repeating to him a common parentage epithet.
Then at 10:00 a.m., Jim turned on the radio in his office, and asked Dagny to stay and listen. But the report he heard horrified him. Apparently, when Señor Ramirez had struck the gavel to call his parliament to order, an explosion had rocked the chamber. That explosion was actually several explosions at once, as the D'Anconia docks were demolished. Later, the Chilean and Argentine authorities found that all of the D'Anconia Copper assets were demolished, and Francisco d'Anconia and all of the most qualified members of his workforce were nowhere to be found.
Jim immediately called Rodrigo and protested that Rodrigo had said that the investment would be safe. At the same time, Orren Boyle called him on another line, and Jim finally told the complaining Orren to shut his mouth, because he could say nothing else.
At midnight that night, Francisco apparently took another revenge. He had the scrolling calendar display changed to read,
|“||Brother, you asked for it!||”|
Francisco signed that message with all his names in full.
The Rearden Debacle
On the night of November 4, 2019, Jim happily attended a meeting with several of the top men from Washington, to persuade Henry Rearden to accede to the Steel Unification Plan. Rearden did attend, but he spent most of the meeting asking the Washington men to explain how they thought their system could continue. Jim said a total of two things that evening. His first contribution was to describe the Railroad Unification Plan to Rearden, when the Washington men asked him to—whereupon Rearden asked the others,
|“||Why do you ask the stooge to waste my time?||”|
Calling him a "stooge" was an insult that Jim had by now come to expect from Rearden. But the other men were in control, and they described the Steel Unification Plan, saying that the Railroad Unification Plan was their model. Rearden asked them how long they expected him to last, and then asked what they thought could save them. That was when Jim said his second thing:
|“||Oh, you'll do something!||”|
That was a mistake. Rearden had become less tractable as the meeting wore on, and now he said nothing further, but picked up his hat and coat and left the room. The Washington men called out to him not to leave "yet," but to no avail. Jim knew why they did not want Rearden to leave: a riot was in progress at his mills, and they did not want Rearden to be at those mills until the riot was all over. The reason for that was that the riot was started, not by Rearden's regular employees, but by a number of substitutes moved in by order of the Unification Board, a body set up under Directive 10-289.
Jim never heard exactly what happened when Rearden drove into his mills and found a riot taking place. But he heard what happened after that, and that revelation sent him rushing to Dagny's apartment to break it to her and beg her to retrieve a situation that was now catastrophic. Simply put, Rearden had quit and vanished. Even the attachment of Rearden's assets to satisfy a tax lien hadn't stopped Rearden; he had left everything behind, stopping only to clean out a wall safe in his apartment. Word had reached his mills, and then, before anyone could stop it, the most able members of his workforce vanished after him. With the result that Henry Rearden's mills were now standing idle, producing nothing at all.
Jim wanted Dagny to bring Rearden back. Jim did not know how he knew this, but he knew that Dagny knew where Rearden had gone. Dagny looked him straight in the eye, refused his request, and ordered him out of her apartment.
This is John Galt Speaking
Mr. Thompson announced that he would speak to the nation on November 22, on the subject of the world crisis. Jim obliged the President by having Dagny accompany him to Madison Square Garden, where Mr. Thompson was to speak. When Dagny realized that she would be called upon to participate, she refused. Before Jim or anyone else could tell her that she could not refuse, several technicians told Mr. Thompson that he couldn't get on the air. Mr. Thompson became furious and threatened to fire everyone, but that availed him nothing.
And then suddenly a voice began to speak:
|“||Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Thompson will not speak to you tonight. His time is up. I have taken it over. You were to hear a report on the world crisis. That is exactly what you are going to hear.||”|
Out of the corner of his eye, Jim caught sight of Dagny giving a clear sign of recognition. Oddly enough, Robert Stadler, the head of the State Science Institute, who was also present, recognized that voice, too, as did Eddie Willers.
Then none of that mattered. The voice identified itself as John Galt. The John Galt, that everyone had been asking about for the last twelve years. And for three hours, this man, who called himself John Galt, boasted about having told all those productive men to quit and vanish!
Jim was furious, though at the time he didn't know why. When the speech was over, he was virtually ignored. Mr. Thompson did all the talking, including to Dagny, who had brazenly told the men to "give up and get out of the way," a thing she had told Jim on September 2, before that disastrous report on the D'Anconia nationalization had come in.
The Torture Session
On February 22, 2020, John Galt was actually taken into custody. He turned out to have been a track walker in the Taggart Terminal in New York!
For three weeks, Mr. Thompson kept John Galt in the penthouse of the Wayne-Falkland Hotel, trying to cut a deal with him. Jim half suspected that Galt wouldn't bite, and he didn't. Then on March 20, 2020, Mr. Thompson had Galt appear on national television to announce "The John Galt Plan" for the economy. Instead of cooperating, Galt took the opportunity to tell everyone to "get out of [his] way." (He also moved so swiftly when his turn came to speak that the bodyguard, with his gun, was revealed to the camera.)
Finally Floyd Ferris suggested something that Jim considered sensible: to take John Galt to the installation of "Project F" of the State Science Institute, and there subject him to electric shock until he agreed to cooperate. Jim, Wesley Mouch, and Ferris were selected as the three who would conduct the session. Jim loudly told everyone present not to be "sissies" about it. Mr. Thompson threw up his hands, said that he couldn't help it, and told them to do whatever they wanted.
The three did take John Galt to the installation, where they stripped him, tied him to a mattress, and attached several electrodes from a special generator. Ferris laid it on the line with Galt: if he didn't start talking, his captors would start. Galt said nothing.
As the session began, Jim watched in fascination as John Galt's body twisted and turned under the shocks. But then Wesley Mouch started blubbering to Ferris that they didn't dare kill Galt, and that if Galt died, they all would die. Jim was about to tell Wesley to shut up, when suddenly the shocks stopped. The technician punched a button several times, pulled a lever up and down, and then kicked the machine, but the shocks did not restart. Ferris told the technician to find out what was wrong with the machine and fix it, but the technician hadn't a clue.
Then John Galt did something that Jim thought was extremely foolish: he actually told the technician what was wrong with his machine and how to fix it! Instead of doing what Galt had said, the technician backed away from the generator and then bolted from the room. Galt laughed at the three men who remained.
Jim now decided that if no one else was going to do anything, he would fix the machine. He barely understood what Galt was talking about—how was he supposed to know what the "vibrator" was?—but he started to take the back off the machine so that he could get at its insides. Wesley begged Jim to stop, saying that it was just as well that the machine had failed anyway. Jim shouted back,
|“||I don't care! I want to make him scream! I want...||”|
And that's when Jim Taggart screamed out loud. For the first time, he now realized that his whole life had been about hurting those who could do things better than he could. Even his fury at Galt for telling all those men to quit and vanish was all about Galt taking those men out of his reach. For a minute, Jim saw the face of his late wife in his mind, and it was almost as though she were directly accusing him of murder in her death, and in the deaths of countless others. Jim couldn't stand it, and started to say, "No, no, no..." Galt said,
|“||I told you that on the radio, didn't I?||”|
Jim couldn't answer. He collapsed to the floor where he was, and couldn't speak to anyone. He barely heard Floyd Ferris say something about getting him out of that building and getting him to a doctor. He let Floyd and Wesley half assist, half carry him out of the room and out of the building.
The novel says nothing about what happened to Jim Taggart after that. Perhaps he was taken to a mental institution, but that would have availed little. Eventually even institutions like that couldn't help anyone, because all the power on the Eastern Seaboard failed permanently. Very likely, Jim Taggart ended up in the hands of a regional militia company. Eventually, he might have faced trial for some of his darker activities, with Ragnar Danneskjöld prosecuting, after John Galt had declared the strike over.
Spoilers end here.
James Taggart is the chief villain in the novel. More to the point, he is a type of every small-minded individual who, jealous of the talents or productive capacities of those who can do things better than they, seeks to demean or even destroy such persons. They pretend to be serving the greatest good for the greatest number, but in fact their motives are far more dire. They pretend to be altruists; in fact they are spiteful.
Ayn Rand considered altruism and spite to be two sides of the same evil coin, and almost considered them a distinction without a difference. Almost, but not quite—the man known as "Non-Absolute" is an altruist who comes to realize that the policies he is supporting do not support the public good, and rebels against them, at the cost of his own life.
Jim is definitely worse than all the other villains, with the possible exception of Floyd Ferris. All the other "looters" do what they do in the pursuit of short-term gain. Ivy Starnes, daughter of Jed Starnes of the Twentieth Century Motor Company, did what she did in the pursuit of control. But Jim Taggart does what he does in order to destroy. He carefully hides this motive even from himself, until he can no longer hide it, and at that moment, his mind collapses completely.