Day four of the four-part interview with Yaron Book, president of the Ayn Rand Institute, in Irvine.
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
TTLA: How are the organization's finances?
YB: We are in a growth spurt. We have grown a lot. We've gone from an annual budget of under $2 million in 2000 to an annual budget of over $8 million, in spite of the [global] financial crisis.
TTLA: To what do you attribute that growth?
YB: To an increased interest in our ideas. People who read [Ayn Rand] maybe when they were young are now are in the financial position to be able to support us. I think the fact is that we have compelling programs that people are really interested in supporting. You know, there's a lot of interest in supporting the D.C. office. There's a lot of interest in supporting our educational programs. A lot of people are really focusing on what we do in high schools and what we do in colleges. We have a nice mixture of programs that different people can get excited about. I think our programmatic success has led to a significant increase in contributions.
TTLA: Is your model based on memberships, donations??
YB: It's all donations.
TTLA: If someone said, "I'll give you a million dollars," would you rename the building for them? Take down Ayn Rand's name up front?
YB: No, no. We wouldn't do that. If somebody wanted a conference room named after them, I would do that. You know, potentially you could name the Joe Smith Ayn Rand Institute. You could do that. Nobody is going to come up with a large enough number to justify that. So, you know, if one of your readers would be interested. [He laughs.] We have no endowment "? a lot of these institutions have very large endowments. We live hand to mouth. We raid the money every year and we spend it all, and partially we spend it all because we believe in the urgency of what needs to be done.
TTLA: In the frequently asked questions section of the ARI website, you ask and answer, "How could we ask for volunteers?" Perphaps volunteerism doesn't fit easily into everyone's understanding of Objectivism?
YB: Yeah, [people have asked,] "How could you be a nonprofit?" Or, "How could you ask for contributions?" Really, we want you to do whatever you think it's in your selfish interest to do. We only want you to give us money if you think it's an investment. And that you're going to get more out of giving us money than you put in. We don't want anybody to sacrifice for the cause. We don't want anybody to sacrifice for the Institute. We want it to be truly in someone's self-interest to give us money and to give us time and effort for what we're doing.
TTLA: As in the old, "it feels better to give than receive"?
YB: No, that's not the approach. I don't want it to be at the level of feeling. I want it at the level of, "I'm going to give you money because I think that you guys can help bring about a better world for me." So I want it to be rational. I want it to be real. Or for my children. I mean, maybe people think, "Maybe not into my lifetime, but my children, or my grandchildren, or for people I care about will benefit from what you guys do. That, to me, is a selfish motivation.
TTLA: So does "feeling" not have a place in Objectivism?
YB: No, feeling is a good thing. You know, I'm a pretty passionate guy. It's just not what should cause you to make a rational decision. I don't think you should make an investment decision based on what feels good, and I don't think you should make decisions like who you give money to based on what makes you feel good. I think it should be a rational decision that hopefully you feel good about as well. That is to say: Feelings and rationality shouldn't [automatically] contradict each other. They can go hand-in-hand. And that's what we strive towards. We're not anti-feeling. We're very much pro-feeling.
TTLA: Let me get that down. Pro-feeling.
YB: We're pro-feeling.
TTLA: Getting back to centers and think tanks and definitions. What is a think tank? Will you elaborate a little more on your earlier comments? Like, do you consider the Ayn Rand Institute a tank? The Ayn Rand Center?
YB: We think the Center is a think tank. The Center is going to evolve. It will evolve more and more into basically a center where our intellectuals, writers, speakers, people who do media work comment from a philosophical "? from an Objectivist "? perspective on events of the day. That's in the sense of the current crisis and long-term solutions, but also the deeper causes, the long-term solutions, the long-term issues. The Center will be doing studies, doing white papers, doing long articles and short op-eds and press releases and stuff like that.
Long-term, I can see twenty, thirty, forty, fifty writers sitting at their desks "? experts in different fields. People doing work in environmentalism, economic issues, and other parts of public policy. Intellectuals employed in order to address, the issues of the day, the events happening in the world around them. What makes us unique is we address [the issues] from a more philosophical perspective.
TTLA: And this needs to be a non-profit enterprise?
YB: It's not clear how you make a profit at it, because it's such a long-term proposition. It's hard to imagine an institution that's a for-profit institution dedicated to it unless there was a market for this content. In newspapers, they don't pay for editorials very well. Nobody's out there saying, here are millions of bucks for research on "X." So it's hard to imagine how you would turn a full profit to do all this.
YB: Yeah, you could do consulting. I mean, you could do political consulting. But I don't think that's a think tank's [role], when you get caught up in the political aspects. You could consult to Disney and others, and I think there's some role for that, but I just don't see it as an industry for a whole firm. I think there are individuals who make money doing that "? consulting on the state of the world.
TTLA: What's your schedule like?
YB: I've done weeks where I'd be in five, six, seven talks or panels. That's pretty rare. I can do foreign policy one night. I can do the financial crisis another night. And an introduction to Objectivism and Ayn Rand another night. I'm often in a business environment, doing a daylong seminar about business ethics. I try to make each time fresh. I try to keep [my remarks] updated.
TTLA: When you talk about business ethics, I take it the ARC isn't saying that we need more Sarbanes-Oxley, that we need more FTC regulation.
YB: I'm saying the opposite. I'm saying Sarbanes-Oxley is destroying business. It's destroying your ability to be ethical. But more than that, at these seminars, I go into, "what is ethics?" What behaviors are rational, or are ethical for businessmen to engage in. We have the seven virtues that are part of your ethical system. And I take those and apply them to a business conference. What does it mean to be rational in business? What does it mean to be honest, and what does honesty mean?
End of series.
Image courtesy The Ayn Rand® Institute.