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In Defense of John Allison’s Moral Character

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By [email protected] (Doug) from The Rule of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog

I disagree with Nick Provenzo’s post alleging that Mr. John Allison is guilty of giving the “sanction of the victim.” Other readers of this webblog have expressed their agreement with Nick’s post. For example, in the comments section, Ed Cline refers to John Allison’s recent press release as a “defection”. There are also several anonymous posts that are far more incendiary but are not worth deigning to address.

Rest assured that I found the BB&T press release [1] to be a grave concern. The particular statement that expresses open support for the U.S. Treasury’s efforts to achieve financial stabilization is the most unsettling part. At first glance, this certainly seems unnecessary and unjust. However, Burgess Laughlin raises the valid point that it is unclear to what extent Mr. Allison, as CEO, has control over this statement compared to, say, the Board of Directors. We also presently have no idea of Mr. Allison’s motivation for releasing this statement. The fact is, there is presently an enormous amount of uncertainty surrounding this press release.

Nevertheless, if any of us who value Objectivism is to judge Mr. Allison properly, then we must consider the entire context of his actions and his public statements. First, consider Mr. Allison’s many ostensible commitments to spreading Objectivism. He:

  • Gives speeches promoting Objectivist principles in business. [2]
  • Oversaw that BB&T would not lend money to any commercial developers that acquired property from private citizens through eminent domain. [3]
  • Responsible for financing the start and expansion of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, where Objectivist intellectuals Dr. C. Bradley Thompson and Dr. Eric Daniels hold research positions. [4]
  • Is probably one of the biggest financial supporters of both the Ayn Rand Institute and the Anthem Foundation.
  • Created numerous BB&T programs to get Atlas Shrugged in particular and Objectivism in general taught in universities. For example, see [5, 6].
  • Probably converted hundreds of productive businessmen into Objectivists.
  • Serves as a shining example of what an individual can accomplish who lives his life and conducts his business according to Objectivism [7].
  • Stuck his neck out to e-mail all of Congress with a resounding critique of the recent bailout proposal at the end of September [8] and blamed the government for the crisis two weeks ago [9].

In my opinion, John Allison has probably done more to effectively spread Objectivism than just about anybody sans a handful for ARI intellectuals and employees. This strongly suggests that Mr. Allison is not an individual who concedes the sanction of the victim at the slightest increase of pressure.

Second, before making our judgment, we should recognize that even Yaron Brook expresses the necessity for the short-term economic stabilization of the housing market, the banking industry and the stock market [10]. Of course, this does not say that supporting the Treasury’s efforts for financial stabilization is justified, especially since Dr. Brook goes on to suggest free market solutions to achieve this stabilization. Nevertheless, Dr. Brook’s opinion still suggests that it is not unreasonable to support some effort for stabilization.

Lastly, I wanted to address the broader issue of life and philosophy. Being an Objectivist does not mean that you refuse to file your income taxes because not doing so will result in your incarceration. Nor does being an Objectivist mandate that you actively and publicly denounce Islamic Totalitarians, as it could force you and your family to go into hiding for fear of your life. Being an Objectivist also does not require that you risk your life by defiantly standing in front of the tanks at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Tiananmen Square. Simply put, it is a contradiction in terms to demand that an Objectivist choose between his life and an allegedly higher philosophic cause.

Again, this is not to say that the infamous press release is worded well or is morally justifiable. However, we must not forget that it is only moral for John Allison to take a defiant stance if it will make his own life better. It is not moral for him to martyr himself to ignite an Objectivist cultural revolt that he may not be able to enjoy.

In summary, I do not think it is fair to debate John Allison’s commitment to Objectivism. His actions prior to this press release show he has lived his life and conducted his business according to Objectivist principles. Furthermore, as previously discussed, he has been monumentally successful in spreading Objectivism. Further still, there is presently an enormous amount of uncertainty underlying both the motivation for releasing the press release as well as the amount of creative control Mr. Allison had over its content. We should take the full scope of his life as well as this great uncertainty into account when judging Mr. Allison’s integrity. Anyone who values Objectivism owes him this much.

[1] http://bbt.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=717

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[3] http://www.bbt.com/about/media/newsreleasedetail.asp?date=1/25/06+9:48:52+AM

[4] http://www.clemson.edu/newsroom/articles/2008/october/BBTgift.php5

[5] http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=as6BR0QV4KE8&refer=us

[6] http://www.utexas.edu/news/2008/03/20/lib_arts_ayn_rand/

[7] http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2007/05/allison_on_stra.html

[8] http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=5293

[9] http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/stories/2008/10/13/daily50.html

[10] Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein on "Real Orange" (KOCE) October 19, 2008, around into the video clip. The video can be viewed here: http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=arc_financial_crisis447140247

Cross-posted from Metablog

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Anybody who has been following the news knows that the Treasury is shotgunning money around to good banks and bad because if it only invested in bad banks then everyone would know which are the bad banks. (That is the Treasury's theory and idea of an 'efficient market' not mine.) This is a "mandatory volunteer" program. At least the gov't actually stands a chance of getting this money back.

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I do not see how it is in Allison's best interest to lie. He is soon to retire so he won't be really losing his business. I doubt they would arrest a man for not giving their vocal support for such an operation. The least he could have done was stay silent about it. The system might be compulsory, but I doubt any endorsement of it is. This runs contrary to everything he believes, so I feel like something fishy might be going on, but if Objectivism has taught me any good lesson, it is that one cannot act on feelings alone. I'll reserve judgment, but it's discontenting to say the very least.

Something no doubt is wrong in the state of Denmark...Er, America.

Edited by TheEgoist
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