Thursday, August 06, 2009

Objectivist banking business

"Put balls and chains on good people, and bad things happen."
-- John Allison, chairman, BB&T bank

In yesterday’s Business Herald Fran O’Sullivan profiles Ralph Norris, who makes the point that “strong banks are absolutely critical to the strength of the economy” and there are few stronger anywhere than the the  Australian-owned banks which NZ and Australia share. Allowing them to go about their business unimpeded by politicians’ inquiries and their blundering micro-management will help grow both economies, says Norris.

He points out however that the “big four” Australian banks are effectively subsidising shaky financial companies through the government’s financial sector guarantee scheme.  Faced with this and other threatened meddling, “some of the Australian banks have seriously considered whether they should continue in this market - there are opportunities elsewhere," he says.

Bravo.  That’s almost a call to shrug right there.

There a few enough bankers in the world standing up for honest banking.  Another such is the chairman and former CEO of North Carolina’s still-thriving BB&T bank, John Allison, profiled in the New York Times this week, a man who is not just a banker but also an Objectivist as well – and not just an Objectivist, but an Objectivist businessman who insists that following Objectivist philosophy, a philosophy based unflinchingly on reason, gives businesses that do so a competitive advantage. In other words, it’s good for your bottom line:

   BB&T, he says, has a proven formula for success that centers on “an uncompromising commitment to reason.”
    Under Mr. Allison, new executives were handed a copy of “Atlas Shrugged.” All employees get a 30-page pamphlet describing BB&T’s philosophy and values: reason, independent thinking and decisions based on facts.
    “Wishing something is so does not make it so,” Mr. Allison says. “I guarantee that long before the rest of us knew, those geniuses at
Lehman Brothers knew that something was wrong, but they evaded it.”

It’s worth reading this New York Times profile in full, because his lessons go far beyond banking. Read “Give BB&T Liberty, but Not a Bailout.”

And note, as you’re reading, the snarling hostility of the subjectivist philosophy professors quoted in the article to the idea that good philosophy might lead to success in the real world.  “The reason why Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is not for [the subjectivist philosophy professors],” points out Objectivist philosopher Craig Biddle, “is that it is for those who are willing to think for themselves rather than follow the herd, and who are not embarrassed by clear, straightforward arguments.”

You can see the problem with such a philosophy for the soft-shelled shysters of academia, can’t you - and also its hard-edged appeal for honest entrepreneurs.

  RELATED: Read the title essay of Why Businessman Need Philoslophy.

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31 Comments:

Blogger Lee S. said...

Do you think the average banking executive in the world (eg. like Norris) would support radical change away from our current central banking system and toward a more free market orientated system? eg. the introduction of a new gold standard or the abolition of fractional reserve banking.

In a similar vein I've read that many medical professionals prefer a government dominated healthcare system over a free market alternative - you think? In general is the banking industry in a similar position?

8/06/2009 05:06:00 pm  
Anonymous David S. said...

"a philosophy based unflinchingly on reason"

"based unflinchingly"? Not really, it certainly promotes the importance of reason, but there's also a number of value judgements, and even one thing I would consider to be a supernatural belief.

Rand had this to say about man -

"He is not exempt from the laws of reality, he is a specific organism of a specific nature that requires specific actions to sustain his life."

- But she also described mans ability to employ reason over instinct, over our natural tendancies as a "non mechanical" process. She believed in 'free will', as though 'man's mind', the choice to emply reason, existed independantly of the deterministic natural world. She opposed supernatural beliefs but her own idea of the attribute of volition is itself a supernatural belief. She never explained how we make the decision to think, only that we do make the choice, or not. She simply asserted that man is a "being of volitional consciousness", almost as though being self aware also pointed to the existence of 'free will'.

Human beings are not motivated by rationality or reason. The will to live itself is an emotional response. We can use reason as a tool for our survival, but we choose to live because of our emotional attachment to life and what it has to offer. All of our value judgements come down to emotional attachments. The basic variables in even the most rational of our decisions are our emotions.

Natural selection eventually offers an objective measurement of sorts, but this measurement is often beyond our grasp.

8/06/2009 06:40:00 pm  
Anonymous Quoth the Raven said...

"...those who are willing to think for themselves rather than follow the herd"
Murray Rothbard had a different opinion.

8/06/2009 06:51:00 pm  
Anonymous twr said...

Somewhat hypocritical of Norris to take that stance considering his actions when CEO of Air NZ. At that time, he was quite vocally in favour of government intervention and regulation, as long as it was in his favour. He'll obviously simply support whichever position suits his current needs the best.

8/07/2009 08:23:00 am  
Anonymous RW said...

Many of today's businessmen are guilty of being a big part of the problem. So many are lobbyists of one kind or another, they equal the amount of socialists going in and out of MP’s offices.
I find them and their National Party more contemptible than the Reds, at least the reds have the gumption to identify themselves.

8/07/2009 09:13:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

David, you said: "". . . based unflinchingly on reason"? Not really."

Yes, really.

Your criticisms are somewhat awry, my friend.

In saying that "man's ability to employ reason [is] a 'non mechanical' process," she is saying that our ability to use reason is not automatic, as the full context of the passage to which you refer makes clear:

"Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct. The function of your stomach, lungs or heart is automatic; the function of your mind is not. In any hour and issue of your life, you are free to think or to evade that effort. But you are not free to escape from your nature, from the fact that reason is your means of survival—so that for you, who are a human being, the question 'to be or not to be' is the question "to think or not to think'.

"Reason does not work automatically." Are you suggesting that it does?

"She believed in 'free will', as though 'man's mind', the choice to emply reason, existed independently of the deterministic natural world.She opposed supernatural beliefs but her own idea of the attribute of volition is itself a supernatural belief. "

Sorry David, but this is just nonsense. Of course man's mind is part of the world -- as is the faculty of volition. Your assertion that she claimed some supernatural basis for volition -- or required it -- is frankly bizarre.

"She never explained how we make the decision to think, only that we do make the choice, or not."

Well, yes she did. Indeed, many Objectivist philosophers have explained the basis of volition -- starting with Rand herself, and on through Nathaniel Branden and Leonard Peikoff and Tibor Machan and on. Put simply, the decision to think starts with the decision to "switch on" or not - the decision to focus or not.

The simplest way to think about it, perhaps, is to examine what you do every morning when the alarm clock goes off. I use that example in this discussion here.

She simply asserted that man is a "being of volitional consciousness" Well, not, she did much more than that, as I explain above.

"The will to live itself is an emotional response."

Indeed it is, and Rand would agree with you. But the will to live alone will not keep you alive. To do that you need to think.

"All of our value judgements come down to emotional attachments."

You misunderstand the full nature of the interaction between our reson and our emotions. Our value judgements themselves, and our emotions, are in fact the result of our prior thinking -- or the lack thereof. Reason and emotions are not in conflict, unless our mistaken (or lack of) thinking make them so.

* * * *

As I said, your criticisms of Objectivism are somewhat awry, but if you would like to understand the subject better there is a helpful reading list here. :-)

8/07/2009 09:39:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Lee, you asked "Do you think the average banking executive in the world (eg. like Norris) would support radical change away from our current central banking system and toward a more free market orientated system? eg. the introduction of a new gold standard or the abolition of fractional reserve banking."

A year ago I would have said no. However in recent months there seems to be many more in that industry prepared to contemplate the possibility that the current system really is broken.

The success of Ron Paul's 'Audit the Fed' movement is an example of that in action, I think.

8/07/2009 09:41:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Quoth the Raven: I'm afraid that Rothbard hack job is revisionist claptrap. It contains more fiction than a Barbara Branden biography.

8/07/2009 09:42:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

RW, you said, "Many of today's businessmen are guilty of being a big part of the problem."

Indeed. There are the businessmen who are moochers, who seek to take advantage of political power. There are the businessmen who are cowards, who simply like to appease political power. And then there are those who know better, but still nonetheless sanction their own destruction through their own unearned guilt.

It was these last that Rand talked about in her last lecture, called The Sanction of the Victim -- "the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the 'sin' of creating values."

If you're keen you can see a video of that lecture here.

8/07/2009 09:48:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

TWR, you said, "Somewhat hypocritical of Norris to take that stance considering his actions when CEO of Air NZ. At that time, he was quite vocally in favour of government intervention and regulation, as long as it was in his favour."


It was certainly a surprise when he went from Roundtable CEO to Air New Zealand CEO, but I don't recall him making calls for government intervention and regulation when he was Air New Zealand CEO? Do you have any cites?

8/07/2009 09:50:00 am  
Anonymous twr said...

I remember being disappointed with his attitude at the time given his background. I'll see what I can find in the way of evidence.

8/07/2009 10:25:00 am  
Blogger Ruth said...

he was quite vocally in favour of government intervention and regulation, as long as it was in his favour.

He was not, and never has been. He was quite vocally *against* the Commerce Commission for ruling against the Qantas deal for a start.

Norris didn't 'break' Air NZ - he fixed it. He also transformed ASB from a toy bank to what we have today.

Good luck in digging up dirt on someone who has been a success in every way.

8/07/2009 01:58:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"He was quite vocally *against* the Commerce Commission for ruling against the Qantas deal for a start.

Norris didn't 'break' Air NZ - he fixed it. He also transformed ASB from a toy bank to what we have today.
"

Yes, that's the way I remember it too.

8/07/2009 01:59:00 pm  
Anonymous twr said...

He was quite vocally *against* the Commerce Commission for ruling against the Qantas deal for a start.

Of course he was, because it would give his company a competitive advantage over other entrants in the market who would have had a significant regulatory barrier to entry.

This isn't exactly an ideal piece, coming from Gareth Morgan, but he does make a couple of good points, eg: For goodness sake, just let the market rule here. There is heaps of potential competition, no evidence whatsoever of any market failure, so what is the problem? Ego I’m afraid, pure unadulterated and low-level ego. Sorry, that’s what in Prime Minister Clark’s mind passes as “the national interest”. It really is that shallow. The reality is that when it comes to the crunch neither Clark nor any of her apologists can actually produce anything other than superficial arguments as to what this “national interest” consists of.

Having the Koru on an aircraft’s fuselage can of course be purchased, as can marketing campaigns to attract visitors to New Zealand. The only real power the government has to promote the national interest when it comes to international air transport is to exploit the monopoly it has over reciprocal landing rights, routing, and influencing code-sharing arrangements advantageous to New Zealand . None of this means that you should also own an airline.

8/07/2009 02:13:00 pm  
Anonymous David S. said...

""Reason does not work automatically." Are you suggesting that it does?"

Not exactly, the term itself, "automatic", is somewhat of a metaphor. The energy employed in any system came from somewhere. The idea that a system self initiated from nothing is the problem I have with it's use in this context. It's not a certainty that everyone will employ reason. The choice however is a result of causal factors, particles and energy interacting, something Rand disagreed with.

Your post on free will never answers the question of how this choice to "focus" occurs, only that it does.

These are taken from that post -

"we can simply introspect and identify ourselves engaging in acts of free will."

This is hardly proof of the claim, in fact it's very similar to the kind of reason thiests have to justify believing in god.

"That which you call your soul or your spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call your "free will" is your mind's freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character."

Self awareness does not equate to 'free will'. Being concious of a decision may not necessarily change the outcome of a decision. The decision itself is based on variables which are base on material interactions.

"You misunderstand the full nature of the interaction between our reson and our emotions. Our value judgements themselves, and our emotions, are in fact the result of our prior thinking -- or the lack thereof. Reason and emotions are not in conflict, unless our mistaken (or lack of) thinking make them so."

Thought can create emotion, and it can change values. But the will to live must be the basis for our continued existence, without it thought is irrelevent. By saying that value judgements can be a result of a lack of prior thinking, you basically prove my point.

The only real objective system is science, if you remove all the arbitrary assumptions objectivism makes that's basically what you're left with.

8/07/2009 04:31:00 pm  
Anonymous twr said...

This one is better actually.

8/08/2009 11:35:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

David

You've completely missed what PC posted for you. It'd be a good idea to actually know about the subject (the structure of Objectivist philosophy) before posting on it.

Hell! I'm no Objectivist and even I know what you've written is completely wide of the mark.

LGM

8/09/2009 03:02:00 am  
Anonymous Brian Scurfield said...

David S,

Do you see the value of free-will in explanations of human behaviour and in theories of morality? How does free-will not existing improve these explanations? If you can't offer a better alternative to free-will, I'd say stick with free-will. Sure, we can maybe find problems with the idea but problems are not in themselves a reason to reject an idea. All our knowledge has problems. Ideas are rejected when a better alternative is found that overcomes the problems of the original idea.

8/09/2009 08:29:00 am  
Anonymous David S. said...

"Hell! I'm no Objectivist and even I know what you've written is completely wide of the mark."

Which aspect, exactly? Rand herself said that human beings are more than just a collection of atoms, she believed in the human soul. Regardless of the fact that she said it was of a "natural" origin, it's still and irrational belief, because it isn't based on any verifiable, empirical, scientific evidence.

"Do you see the value of free-will in explanations of human behaviour and in theories of morality?"

Irrelevent, wishing something existed doesn't mean it exists. This is one of the more reasonable things Rand had to say. Do you think basing a system of morality on a falsehood is a good idea?

The people here who believe in free will and base their morality on that belief do so because the idea is appealing on an emotional level. The idea itself however has no more evidence to support it than the "god hypothesis".

People feel like they have free will, therefore free will exists? Ridiculous. That does not prove your case, and I shouldn't have to prove a negative to make my point.

8/09/2009 07:04:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Since David S. is now making things up, let's see some of what Rand actually does says about volition, and the soul -- and, in passing, about ecology [it is taken from her essay 'The Metaphysical & the Man-Made'].

It answers directly and denies, many of the things David claims that Rand upheld -- in particular that there is anything necessarily "supernatural" about either volition, the mind or the "soul":

"Man's volition is an attribute of his consciousness (of his rational faculty) and consists in the choice to perceive existence or to evade it. To perceive existence, to discover the characteristics or properties (the identities) of the things that exist, means to discover and accept the metaphysically given. Only on the basis of this knowledge is man able to learn how the things given in nature can be rearranged to serve his needs (which is his method of survival).

". . . The best and briefest identification of man's power in regard to nature is Francis Bacon's "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." In this context, "to be commanded" means to be made to serve man's purposes; "to be obeyed" means that they cannot be served unless man discovers the properties of natural elements and uses them accordingly. . .

"Today, this is (implicitly) understood and (more or less) accepted in regard to the physical sciences (hence their progress). It is neither understood nor accepted—and is, in fact, vociferously denied—in regard to the humanities, the sciences dealing with man (hence their stagnant barbarism). Almost unanimously, man is regarded as an unnatural phenomenon: either as a supernatural entity, whose mystic (divine) endowment, the mind ("soul"), is above nature—or as a subnatural entity, whose mystic (demoniacal) endowment, the mind, is an enemy of nature ("ecology"). The purpose of all such theories is to exempt man from the law of identity.

"But man exists and his mind exists. Both are part of nature, both possess a specific identity. The attribute of volition does not contradict the fact of identity, just as the existence of living organisms does not contradict the existence of inanimate matter. Living organisms possess the power of self-initiated motion, which inanimate matter does not possess; man's consciousness possesses the power of self-initiated motion in the realm of cognition (thinking), which the consciousnesses of other living species do not possess. But just as animals are able to move only in accordance with the nature of their bodies, so man is able to initiate and direct his mental action only in accordance with the nature (the identity) of his consciousness. His volition is limited to his cognitive processes; he has the power to identify (and to conceive of rearranging) the elements of reality, but not the power to alter them. He has the power to use his cognitive faculty as its nature requires, but not the power to alter it nor to escape the consequences of its misuse. He has the power to suspend, evade, corrupt or subvert his perception of reality, but not the power to escape the existential and psychological disasters that follow. (The use or misuse of his cognitive faculty determines a man's choice of values, which determine his emotions and his character. It is in this sense that man is a being of self-made soul.)

"Man's faculty of volition as such is not a contradiction of nature, but it opens the way for a host of contradictions—when and if men do not grasp the crucial difference between the metaphysically given and any object, institution, procedure, or rule of conduct made by man.

[All emphasis in the original.]

8/09/2009 08:11:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

And by the way, "evidence" includes evidence derived from introspection -- despite insistent protests otherwise from positivists and the like.

8/09/2009 08:11:00 pm  
Anonymous Brian Scurfield said...

David,

If our best explanations require something then it is reasonable to suppose that something exists. This is neither wishing nor emotional. So, again, how does free not existing improve our theories of human behaviour and morality? Do you have better explanations?

8/09/2009 08:23:00 pm  
Anonymous David S. said...

"Living organisms possess the power of self-initiated motion"

This statement pretty much sums up what's wrong with Rands line of thinking. From an objective viewpoint, this goes against even basic Newtonian physics. On a macroscopic level, reality does not exist as a collection of objects, but rather as an analog, continuous plane. An organism can only initiate it's own motion when endowed with the energy and material required for that degree of motion. Even then, if the energy and material has been stored in it's organisational structure, the initiation of motion must be precipitated by a physical trigger of some sort.

Whichever way you look at it, an organism is a product of, and extension of, it's environment. Human beings, and other life forms, have not always existed. But the material that we are comprised of has, it's simply been re-organised. We evolved from those "inanimate objects" (a flawed term, no object is "inanimate") that lack "self initiated motion".

"And by the way, "evidence" includes evidence derived from introspection -- despite insistent protests otherwise from positivists and the like."

Do you have an explanation to support this claim?

"If our best explanations require something then it is reasonable to suppose that something exists. This is neither wishing nor emotional. So, again, how does free not existing improve our theories of human behaviour and morality? Do you have better explanations?"

Causality exists, no-one is disputing this. The laws of physics, despite the maliability that quantum physics may point to, at least exist on our macroscopic level of reality. The innate complexity of our environment is more than adequate to explain the variability we see in human behavior, and the analog nature of reality means accurate predictions of the future are most likely impossible. Certainly impossible at our current level of development.

8/09/2009 09:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Brian Scurfield said...

David,

In another thread I have been arguing that it is harmful to override a child's free-will. Would this argument be improved by denying free-will or by talking about complexity? Some people think a child's free-will is not important. Would you agree with this?

8/09/2009 09:51:00 pm  
Anonymous David S. said...

I can't answer your final question as I don't believe in free will. I'll try answering your first question, but rephrase it a bit

"Would this argument be improved by denying free-will and instead by talking about complexity?"

I think the discussion would be improved by talking about complexity, Although I tend to think the answer lies somewhere between your argument and theirs (I have been reading that discussion as well)

Let's assume for a second that I'm right, and free will does not exist. Why does the belief in free will exist? If free will exists then that means that there must be causal factors behind the development of all beliefs. All beliefs must have some degree of functionality, or they would not survive evolution.

The functionality of beliefs must not therefore be dependant on the exact makeup of those beliefs, as they are only a shell for an obscured objective truth, which will be propagated by the process of natural selection.

As I said before, the complexity of reality and it's analog nature most likely makes prediction of the future impossible. It also points to the 'uniqueness' of all the organisational structures that exist. One size does not fit all, and although I would not equate 'uniqueness' to the concept of 'free will', it is a concept that does align itself with this likelyhood.

When deciding what is best for a child, some decisions are easy. Don't let them run across a busy road, at least not until they've been taught how to do it safely. Other decisions are harder, what school do you send them to? Do you encourage all of thier interests? Some you might consider to be desirable, like an interest in maths, or art, or history, but what if they develop an interest in smoking P?

There is no ideological answer that fits all of these scenarios. The world is far too complex a place for conceptual scenarios to accurately represent reality, although I think they can provide some degree of insight. The only advice I would give is to keep an open mind, accept that there's a great deal you will never learn, and accept that even what you know is just a shadow of what actually exists. Oh, and before you jump all over it, no, I don't think having an "open mind" means you have 'free will', it's just an expression.

Causal factors most likely culminate towards people being driven by desire, emotion, and the will to live. Rational explanations may exist for the formation of such desires, and for their continued propagation. But on an individual level there is no objective morality, only what a person desires.

8/09/2009 11:53:00 pm  
Anonymous LGM said...

David

You are contradicting yourself by saying you don't believe in free will. You are relying on an expression of your free will to make the claim that you don't believe in free will.

Now it is up to you to decide whether to respond or not (either way, an application and an expression of your free will).

LGM

BTW you've still completely misunderstood what PC posted for you.

8/10/2009 04:37:00 am  
Anonymous David S. said...

"You are contradicting yourself by saying you don't believe in free will. You are relying on an expression of your free will to make the claim that you don't believe in free will."

Bullshit. Is this tripe the best you can come up with? I would not require 'free will' to make any of the statements that I've made. The argument I'm making is that regardless of the unpredictable nature of human behaviour, it's still deterministic. The statement that "man's ability to employ reason [is] a 'non mechanical' process," is completely flawed. If there's no mechanism behind a system, it does not function. In order to function material MUST have a mechanism. Implying functionality without a mechanism, is to imply something supernatural, as all natural phenomenon (at least on a macroscopic level) have a mechanism.

Instrospection does not prove the existence of free will, no more than it proves the existence of god. If a person, through introspection, heard what they thought was the voice of god, and decided that god must exist as a result, at the very least you'd say they were misguided, if not delusional.

Nor does the variability and unpredictability in human behavior prove the existence of 'free will', as this is the natural state of our view of reality.

8/10/2009 04:00:00 pm  
Anonymous LGM said...

David

No. You're well wrong.

You falsely claimed: "I would not require 'free will' to make any of the statements that I've made."

That you formed your statements of position, let alone that you actually wrote such up and posted, required you exercise your free will. For you to argue anything requires an exercise of free will on your part.

As already pointed out, your own actions contradict your stated position. By your own action you collapsed your argument. It was voided from inception.

Checkmate!

LGM

8/10/2009 10:10:00 pm  
Anonymous David S. said...

Tell me, LGM, how do YOU define 'free will'? My argument is that the human mind functions deterministically. It's my understanding (though perhaps you are using a different definition) that the faculty of 'free will' enables the mind to function beyond determinism.

And PC, since you have accused me of "making things up", I'd appreciate you setting me straight. Presumably it's something to do with what I think Rand's arguments were, and I suspect it has something to do with my assertion that she believed in the "human soul", but I'm just guessing at the moment.

8/10/2009 11:04:00 pm  
Anonymous Andrew said...

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8/22/2009 11:47:00 pm  
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8/25/2009 05:48:00 am  

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