What Would Ayn Think?

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Day three of the four-part interview with Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute, in Irvine.

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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

TTLA: Do ask yourself, "?What Would Ayn Rand Do?' before you speak out?

YB: We're building on the legacy of her work. I hope that everything we do is consistent with what she would have wanted done. But my question is, given my knowledge of her ideas, "What needs to be done [today]?" I don't think it's, "?What would she do?'

TTLA: So there's not literal readings of her books being undertaken, with folks here saying, "?Okay, on this page it says to do this or that?'

YB: Absolutely not. There is some basis and principles out there, there's a certain view of the world that we've adopted from her. [But] the world changes "? the principles don't change but specific applications of them change. You've got to figure out how.

TTLA: Ayn Rand wasn't really a public figure during her time, right?

YB: Not really. She started becoming [known] during the Depression. She was involved in kind of some political initiatives, but she didn't write much. Atlas Shrugged is about the collapse of civilization and a Great Depression-like environment. It's a little spooky when you read what [then-President Bush's Secretary of the Treasury Henry] Paulson [was] proposing "? there are so many similarities between what happened in Atlas Shrugged and our [recent] situation.

I wouldn't say she predicted [the recent situation]. She didn't predict the details of it, but in a sense that she said, "Look, what happens is?." And she said some really succinct quotes about this. What happened is you get government regulation. The government regulation distorts markets and creates crises. The crisis is then not blamed on the regulations but on whatever freedom is left, so you get more government regulations. And she saw this happen, and we're seeing it right now manifest itself again. She predicted that every crisis would lead to greater and deeper crises, because every crisis leads to more controls and more regulations. If you go to the website, on the front page we have some quotes from her that are very applicable to the situation now, even though they were written 30, 40 years ago.

TTLA: So that is a literal reading. You're posting quotes from the Ayn Rand bibliography.

YB: Sure. If it fits, we put it up. I mean, we take quotes of hers and put them up when they're applicable. But certainly when we are writing, we're not just quoting her. We're trying to take these general ideas and apply them to the particulars of this crisis. So she had nothing to say about the government taking equity positions in banks, right? There weren't hedge funds back in her day, so no hedge funds are mentioned.

TTLA: How about the ARI's location, here in Orange County? And the architecture of this building. Does either signify something?

YB: Yes "? that we got a good deal on the real estate price. You know why we are in Orange County? Basically, because it's a nice place to live. That's the reason more than anything else. And [also being in Washington,] D.C. is definitely a strategic decision, because that's where most of the think tanks are. It's where the media is. Washington is a strategic location where Orange County is not. And yeah, I wouldn't look at the architecture, how it looks. [He laughs.] It would be nice if we had a beautiful building somewhere. Maybe some day we will. But, hey, we have to grow into that. A few more tens of millions of dollars.


YB: I like open spaces. I don't like the claustrophobic look of corridors, but that's just me. I wish I could say this turned out to be more interdisciplinary. I don't think it is yet.

TTLA: The organization used to be based in L.A., right?

YB: We were in Marina Del Rey. In 2002 we moved to Orange County. I don't know that we'll have many more branches [other than D.C.]. We might spin out the Ayn Rand archive and set it up separately, maybe in L.A. "? but at this point, there are no plans for that.

Coming Thursday: Money, Money, Money

Photo copyright and courtesy Jeremy Rosenberg, 2008

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