Modern-day capitalism has no shortage of heavyweight scholars—names such as Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, Friedrich von Hayek and Murray Rothbard are among the most prominent names that surface among free market thinkers. Yet the person most frequently evoked by proponents and detractors alike was neither a trained economist nor a traditional businessperson.
Ayn Rand, author, thinker and political lightning rod, would have turned 110 years old this week. More than three decades after her death, she remains one of the most influential defenders of the free market.
Over the last several years, the immigrant—born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum—who studied filmmaking and eventually fled Communist Russia to become an ardent defender of free markets and limited government has ridden a tidal wave of newfound public appreciation. Although she was little more than a fiction writer, Rand's oeuvre and legacy inspire frequent, and fierce, debate. One of her biggest defenders says her storytelling is one of the major reasons why she remains such an icon.
Rand's enduring popularity, and her sway on the debates over capitalism, "is partially because she wrote fiction," Yaron Brook, head of the Ayn Rand Institute, told CNBC in a recent interview.
Even in death, the philosopher is as prominent as she's ever been. An early Rand novel called "Ideal" is set to publish in July, her first original work in more than 50 years.
"The stories are timeless … and it leaves a more emotional impression on our lives. We remember the stories" even more than the facts, figures and data presented by traditional economists, said Brook, who himself was introduced to Rand's work at age 16.
In that vein, her status as an economic layperson and novelist gives her ideas more salience to both non-scholars and scholars alike, Brook said. "The fact that she wrote acts as strength," the 53-year-old said. "It allows the stories to be carried from generation to generation."