Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New York Times Article on Allison, Brook, and Rand

A major article in the New York Times recently discussed John Allison, chairman of BB&T, Yaron Brook, and Ayn Rand (HT: Paul Hsieh - OActivists). Most of the article was very positive, but the proverbial Ayn Rand slur from a few modern academics caught my eye:
“To describe her as a minor figure in the history of philosophical thinking about knowledge and reality would be a wild overstatement,” says Brian Leiter, director of the Center for Law, Philosophy and Human Values at the University of Chicago. “She’s irrelevant.”

...Professor Leiter says Ms. Rand’s views on moral philosophy and objective reality are “simple-minded in the extreme.”

“She doesn’t understand the historical positions of thinkers on these issues, such as Hume and Kant,” he says. “Even the minority of philosophers with some sympathy for her celebration of the virtues of selfishness usually find her general philosophical system embarrassing.” [emphasis mine]
Notice that he doesn't argue that she is wrong, only that she is "simple-minded". If you follow this blog, recall that I just wrote a post, The Modern Intellectual's Virtue of Complexity, in which I analyzed the reasons why modern academics in the social sciences have such an affinity for "complexity". Could you imagine someone accusing Newton of being "simple-minded" because he reduced the laws of mechanics to F=M*A, or Maxwell for having reduced the essential laws of electromagnetism to four principles? Could you imagine someone criticizing Einstein for the simplicity of E=mc^2?

As I argued in the post, it would be a mistake to think that these academics mean "simple-minded" in the sense of ignoring important factors. They regard complexity as a virtue in and of itself. Actually, as I further argued, in the proper context, being regarded as simple minded should be taken as a compliment of the highest order.

The other quotes, hardly worth mentioning because they are so absurd, are related to Allison's argument that government intervention is the cause of the economic crisis:
“It takes a great leap of ideological blindness to look at the past few years and think that the main problem was too much government involvement,” said Robert B. Reich, a public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who was a labor secretary in the Clinton administration.

Mark A. Thoma, an economist at the University of Oregon, says the financial crisis would have been worse if the government hadn’t rapidly intervened.

“I completely disagree with the idea that letting the markets heal themselves is the best idea,” he says. “We tried that in the ’30s, and it didn’t work out so well.”
These quotes are so factually and logically wrong, they represent complete and total intellectual negligence and would be grounds for termination if there was even a shred of objectivity left in the social sciences.

How ironic, that a man such as Robert Reich, whose wholly debunked Keynesian policies of credit expansion and government intervention in the economy are the clear cause of the economic crisis, would accuse Allison of "ideological blindness." As a rebuttal to Reich, see my post,
Rational Animal Spirits, to hear Allison's full lecture in which he elucidates the true causes of the crisis.

The most egregiously absurd claim has to be Thoma's statement that we let the "markets heal themselves" in the 1930's as if this were a period of laissez-faire! Someone should let Thoma know that the 1930's were known as America's Red Decade for a reason, including widespread "infatuation with communism" and the fact that FDR's New Deal represented the largest expansion of federal government power in our nation's history. This fact was directly responsible for the exacerbation of the Great Depression throughout the 1930's.

If these arguments, namely that Rand was "simple-minded" and that the 1930's proves we need government intervention in the economy, are the best arguments the left has to offer, then I actually disagree with Allison's statement in the article:

“In some ways, Ayn Rand filled in the ideas of Aristotle. It’s a whopping competitive advantage,” he says. “I personally believe objectivism will be the dominant philosophy in this country in 25 years.”

It should be much sooner.


Michael Labeit said...

Leonard Peikoff, in one of his May 2009 podcasts claims that in 50 years America will bear the burden of a fledgling theocracy. I'm more inclined to believe him, not necesarily because its HIM (no offense) but because given the credulity of the American people I certainly don't think
they will become wise to what's occuring and subscribe to Objectivism. I wouldn't bet money on Allison's prediction even though I share his desire to have Objectivism become "mainstream."

Also, it definitely arguable that interest in Ayn Rand has been advanced in part because of the recession. Once the recession is complete (whenever that is) the prosperity, both real and faux, that comes with the next period of economic growth, the desire to be acqainted with Ayn Rand may fade. Wealth affords it possessors the luxury of ignorance in the short term.

Doug Reich said...


Unfortunately, I can not disagree with you. In the post, I said "should" meaning that our opposition is so bankrupt, that it "should" be relatively easy. However, this does not mean it will happen as you point out.

I especially agree with your wealth breeds complacency thought. Americans tend to be anti-intellectual which has protected us for a long time, but the flip side is that they don't get things in principle, so when times are good, people can not see the hand writing on the wall.

Before the election, I thought that crazy Obama policies might spark a true revolution and we see the beginning stages of it, however, as can be seen in the Tea Party movement, this is a movement fueled by a sense that something is wrong, not necessarily by a true fundamental grasp of the root causes.

It's up to us to lead this movement intellectually. The left is so outrageous and so bankrupt, you'd think it would be easy, but it is not after you get past the outrage to the real solution: objectivity.

Thanks for great comments as usual.