Saturday, June 30, 2012

Objectivist To Run Cato (Temporarily)

Successful banker and Ayn Rand Institute board member John Allison IV has been appointed as the acting head of Cato following an ugly public battle for control between former head Ed Crane and the fellow founders Koch brothers. Allison, while reasonably prominent, is a rather bland figure if his recent interview in Ayn Rand Nation is anything to go by. Certainly while he substantially funded various Rand related programs in a few colleges, there seems little about his values-based approach in his former bank, BB&T, that is actually very Randian. If anything it's old-fashioned conservative business ethics, and somewhat refreshing at that. Probably the most interesting thing about it is the spectacle of an ARIan consorting openly with libertarians! Clearly the Yaron Brook approach of corporatist compromise rather than purist isolationism is winning out at ARI HQ. Former Cato employee Will Wilkinson has some concerns as to foreign policy however. Watch this space.


Samadhir said...

From the interview: "...While many top banks failed outright or received large bailouts during the recent financial crisis, BB&T remained healthy and profitable."

Wasn't this interview made two years after BB&T received that 3 billion dollar bailout from the government?

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Samadhir: Wasn't this interview made two years after BB&T received that 3 billion dollar bailout from the government?

Allison's story is that BB&T, and several other healthy banks, were basically forced to take this money, under threat that federal regulators would in future refuse to give them whatever permissions they might need for future expansions, etc. So BB&T supposedly took the money and then paid it back at the earliest opportunity.

I recall that an exec at Wells Fargo made similar claims. The story goes that the feds wanted all the major banks to take TARP funds -- regardless of whether the banks needed or wanted them -- so that consumers wouldn't panic based on whether their bank "needed" a bailout.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

Daniel: Clearly the Yaron Brook approach of corporatist compromise rather than purist isolationism is winning out at ARI HQ.

I've been wondering about this since I first heard that Allison was stepping in at Cato. Allison is on the ARI board, so given the Official Objectivist Position(TM) that consorting with libertarians is anti-Objectivist, it seems like he'd have to be kicked off at once. Apparently there is some controversy around this among ARI supporters, although I don't know details.

If ARI doesn't kick him out, they will have to explain how allowing him to remain is consistent with kicking out David Kelley for the alleged crime of speaking to, and thereby sanctioning, a libertarian group. As far as I know, the Official Objectivist Positions on sanction and libertarianism have not changed one iota since 1989.

I suppose the ARIans can rewrite history and explain that Kelley was actually kicked out over the "open system"/"closed system" issue -- ignoring that this issue was never raised until after he'd been denounced for sanctioning libertarians. (That story, of course, is also suspect ... but never mind.)

ARI is pretty adept at rewriting history, so I'm sure they can find a way to handle this. Unless Leonard puts his foot down and reminds everyone who he is again ....

Anonymous said...

Wealth(David Kelly) < Wealth(John Allison)

Daniel Barnes said...

I agree with Anon, ECE - follow the money!

gregnyquist said...

It looks like the dust has settled on this story: Allison has been accepted at Cato without ruffling any feathers at ARI. No one over there would dare alienate another large doner after the McCaskey flap. Money talks, and Allison can get away with stuff no other ARIian (not even Yaron Brook) could get away with. I ran across the following quote from Allison: "As good as Hayek and von Mises are, typically people who are interested in them already are conservative. Very few people read technical books and have their worldview changed. Rand’s work is a novel and about ethics and not economics. Rand was a defender of rational self-interest, properly understood." Could any other ARIian get away "as good as Hayek"? Rand hated Hayek, thought he was worse than outright communists. And the use of the term "conservative" in the context of changing people's mind suggests Allison wants more people to be conservative.

And in case anyone thought Allison mentioned Hayek favorably merely as a sop to his Cato colleagues, in a Cato essay he writes: "However, in my experience, [the people at the Fed] are guilty of what F. A. Hayek (1989) called “the fatal conceit”—that is, the belief that smart people can do the impossible." So now Allison is not only quoting Hayek, but favorably quoting a statement that Hayek justifies on the basis of his "reason has limits" view. Rand would be livid.

All this suggests to me that the McCaskey scandal has weakened Peikoff and the ideological purist faction within ARI. The dominant faction at ARI, led by Yaron Brook, are tired of being isolated on the right as a result of Peikoff's knee-jerk hostility to libertarianism, conservatism, and the Republican Party.

Neil Parille said...



Rand hated Hayek, thought he was worse than outright communists.

I believe she called him a "cheap, driveling, non-entity" in her "Marginalia."

Considering that Robert "Rewrite" Mayhew edited the Marginalia, what Rand said was probably worse.

Another area where the ARI seems to be changing is with respect to Rand's life. As fawning as the 100 Voices oral history is, it contains hints that the Branden view is pretty much correct. I think Weiss says in his book that fighting a war with the Branden style account of Rand isn't high on anyone's list.

BTW, there is some question as to how much of The Fatal Conceit was actually written by Hayek. It's been a while since I read the book but I think it had an evolutionary based epistemology and ethics. Rand would have puked.

-Neil Parille

Tod said...

Neil, regarding the Branden view in 100 Voices, are there any notable examples you could mention?

Neil Parille said...


m a little tied up, but I'll do a comment later. Check out page 153 and Richard Cornuelle's observation that in asking him to break with von Mises, Rand wanted loyalty. Also, he says that for Rand considered someone an adversary who was close to her position but didn't completely agree with it. This is from the early 50s, before the movement was in full swing.

Tod said...


Thanks. That's a fantastic reference. It's telling that even though Cornuelle was with Rand on being totally against the draft (which I personally agree with), she wanted him to cut off his relations with von Mises. That never ending demand for total ideological purity, even in personal relationships, gave us the inbred and endlessly infighting Objectivist movement of today.

Rand should have stuck to fiction. Her strict personality made for some fun and thought provoking novels (well, really just The Fountainhead), but when extended to actual human relations it left destruction and tears, and a half-assed psuedo-philosophy. She could have such audacity and could be such a bully, you'd have to be either naive and starstruck or a total pushover to have lasted more than a week with her. If someone demands you choose between person A or person B, almost without exception the person demanding you make the choice is the real problem.

Neil Parille said...

Allison seems hard core (Kant caused the GEC) and, like many Objectivists, isn't all that great when it comes to intellectual history.

Neil Parille said...

I meant to reference this review of Allison's recent book:

Neil Parille said...

More from David Gordon on Allison/CATO.