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Ayn Rand as Think Tank?

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The Ayn Rand Institute is the parent organization of the Ayn Rand Center, as well as the host of a Rand archive and a shrine of sorts "? book covers, her desk, etc. "? to the author and Objectivism founder. The Institute is located in the Von Karman Corporate Center, a non-descript Irvine office park. More on the building's architecture is here and more about Brook is here.

TTLA sat down last winter "? ages ago, we realize "? for a Q&A with Yaron Brook, president of the ARI. Bits of the conversation have previously been posted here and here. What follows today and later this week is more of the interview, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Monday: Ayn Rand as Think Tank?

Tuesday: Why the Economy Crashed

Wednesday: What Would Ayn Think?

Thursday: Money, Money, Money

Think Tank LA: Is this place a think tank?

Yaron Brook: Part of what we do is consistent with being a think tank. A lot of what we do is not. We'll work with high schools, with teachers, and those obviously are not what you would typically consider as think tank [activities]. RAND is a think tank. I think they may be more strategic think tank than others, because they do these long-term studies and they're borderline academia. You know, a lot of academics function in a think tank type [environment].

TTLA: Like, say, some of the centers at UCLA?

YB: Yeah, and many of [the people affiliated] with think tanks, a lot of them are visiting fellows. And in the sense that is UCLA, some of [those centers] function as think tanks, certainly some economic ones. I think anybody dealing with public policy issues or current events or putting out opinions and research and statements should be considered as a think tank. I consider magnet centers our think tank. And if we're not quite there yet, then I want it to be a think tank in the future, because I think obviously we devote a lot fewer resources to that kind of stuff than, than many of the other institutes out there.

TTLA: What's the relationship between the Ayn Rand Center and the Ayn Rand Institute?

YB: The Center is basically a part of the Institute. It's not a separate entity. One aspect that I think is interesting about think tanks is that they are primarily "? not exclusively but primarily "? a phenomenon of the right. And I think that the way at least a lot of people look at it is that the left dominates academia. So, if you're looking for what intellectuals have to say about the state of the world, well if you go to the universities, you're going to get the left's perspective on the state of the world. And the think tanks really came about as the right's response to that situation.

And if you look at the think tank world, typically in the U.S., most of the think tanks came about in the `70s and `80s as a real part of the kind of swing to the right that happened during that period in politics. And the think tanks partially caused it, and are partially a result of that swing to the right. There clearly is a response to the dominance of the left in the intellectual world at the universities. And a lot of the people who [work at] a think tank or at least used to be at think tanks were the people who couldn't make it in academia because their views are so marginalized in academia.

So while there are left think tanks "? Brookings Institute is an obvious example, it's huge and I think it might be the first think tank ever "? if you look at most of the think tanks, most of them are right of center.

TTLA: What about the RAND Corporation? The executive V.P. there says RAND doesn't like to be labeled as a "think tank."

YB: RAND is an exception. It, it is not part of that [discussion]. And that's why they don't like the term think tank, because I think it associates, it associates with Heritage and, you know, they want to be objective. They don't have a political position, and most think tanks do. So I think it is an interesting phenomenon, a historical fact that that's how these things developed. I think it's that where you get the intellectuals, think tanks have become the home of intellectuals outside of academia, as an alternative to academia.

TTLA: But you've got a doctorate. Do other members of your team?

YB: Not as much here. I mean we don't, partially because most of the staff doesn't have, they're not PhD's. So for example, in D.C., we've got a former law partner who decided that he didn't want to be a law partner anymore. He wanted to be more of an intellectual. We've got younger people here who never got their PhD's. It also might be somebody getting his PhD and then finding that either the job opportunities weren't that attractive, or they were being shut out because they're an Ayn Rand fan.

TTLA: Does that happen? Do people not include working here on their resumes?

YB: Academia has changed. I think academia was more of a left-wing bastion 20 years ago than it is today. I think it's opened up somewhat. But I definitely think that, generally, if you have what I would consider right-wing credentials, you have a hard time in academia. You can go and talk about you're faculty at UCLA, you're just a little bit right of center, and you don't feel at home. All you have to do is look at any of the voting records of faculty in academia and it's 95% Democratic.

TTLA: Do you have a specific example, or is it more of a feeling, regarding people being denied or turned down because of what you think they should have had?

YB: I'm trying to think of anybody that put this place in their resume, but there are certainly stories all over the place. Let me go dig up an academic publication about a guy who was denied tenure at a university because of his Objectivist writings. He doesn't work for us here, but many people have been ostracized or their careers are being hampered because of their connections.

Continuing Tuesday: Why the Economy Crashed

Yaron Brook photo by Jeremy Rosenberg, 2008

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