It is a small thing, and it is in there - at least in the case of Eddie Willers. I vaguely recall the discussion that he was the confident industrialist in his own sphere of expertise. I'll take it as a homework assignment to find the passage and elaborate on the lesson in it.
And if I'm wrong - if you've found a error (or even an omission) in Rand's philosophical worldview - it will be the first example ever presented to me in my ten-plus years of being her student.
Well, that, and it's total trash and she is selfish and hates people and wants to see us eat our own children...
Willers gets some kind comments (but still gets left on the dang train at the end). Not sure Ives does. I would not call it an error. Somewhere between omission and underappreciated, there are competent people who are not Hank Rearden but contribute mightily to production.
The applause for the great ones' skill at manual labor is contradicted by comparative advantage: yes, the great cancer researcher probably does do a better job mowing his yard than the neighbor kid. But we are all better off if he slides Buster Jr. a twenty and heads off to work. I don't think you'll find a good example of that in Atlas.
It seems to me that Rand does give credit to various TT workingmen (Bill Brent, the engineers) and to the importance of making a superb hamburger (though it turns out the chef is the world's leading philosopher...) but I think Eddie's last scene is supposed to be symbolic. Without a Dagny or Galt to lead, a Willers could only get the trains part way across the country.
There is also the bit about the Rearden Steel union and its workers, put in a positive light.
Didn't do my homework last night but wanted to respond to your comparative advantage critique from my own perspective as a reader.
Comparative advantage is a fine principle in a free market, but it is a principle of optimization. A free market can function just fine without it. One of the main themes of Atlas, however, is that men of the mind would prefer to withhold the product of their genius than to have an ever growing share of it confiscated by "society" through the democratic authority of its government. In the startup phase of their isolated free market in Galt's Gulch there are not enough people to excel at every skill, so highly specialized people face the prospect of doing for themselves or going without. They choose to do for themselves.
There's a secondary point being made here: While laborers need men of the mind in order to survive or at least to prosper, men of the mind can do just fine without laborers. Labor is universal; genius is not.
Remember we are talking about a novel, not a philosophical treatise.Labor is universal; genius is not; is a general principle but it doesn't necessarily apply to every individual case. No one human being can do everything, nor should he.
@SteveD: I wonder, have you've read jk's Review Corner of last Sunday? I believe a major conclusion he reached was that Atlas Shrugged is both a novel and a philosophical treatise.
But you have, I think, caught me out in an error. Labor is no more universal than genius. From my earliest memories comes a license plate in my grandfather's workshop: "Fight Poverty: WORK!" Conversely, for any man willing to embrace his rational faculty, genius is no lofty, unattainable ideal. This was, after all, Rand's very point!
Thank you, most sincerely.