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Giving Thanks and Looking Forward – Article by Bradley Doucet

Giving Thanks and Looking Forward – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance HatBradley Doucet
October 15, 2015

Expressing gratitude, according to self-help gurus and neuroscientists alike, is a sure route to being a happier person. Thanksgiving, then, should be the happiest of all holidays—and not just because of the turkey dinner with all the fixings and the football-watching marathon. In addition to the good things this holiday brings, it also contributes to well-being by encouraging us to give thanks for the good things in our lives. And when I do stop and think about it, I am grateful for a great many things.

On a personal level, I’ve got loving and beloved friends and family, a happy and sane home life, relatively good health, and work that I find meaningful and stimulating. I grew up in an overwhelmingly French-speaking town, but went to English schools all my life, allowing me to become almost perfectly bilingual, and now I live in one of the safest big cities in the world. I had the pleasure of spending years formally studying music, philosophy, and economics, all of which I now have the privilege of continuing to study informally these many years later.

On a political level, I’m grateful to be living here and now, in this country and century. Canada is one of the most economically free countries in the world, and not coincidentally, one of the wealthiest. Thanks to a newfound liberty and dignity for inventors and businesspeople starting just a couple of hundred years ago in northern Europe, an explosion of innovation and rapid economic growth has made almost everyone much better off today than anyone could have conceived of back then. Furthermore, in much of the world, the lot of women and minorities has improved dramatically. And despite the impression left by a media formula that still favours bad news over good, violence of all kinds continues to decline.

If I sometimes complain—and I do, about things both big and small—I like to think it’s because I can see an even better world just around the corner, and I know we could get there a lot faster if we would only tweak a few things. Of course, as often as not, I complain because I haven’t been managing my sleep schedule properly and I’m just cranky. Assuming that my motives are always noble is an example of a self-serving bias, by the way, one of many that can get in the way of objectivity and clear-headedness, and thereby keep us from that better tomorrow.

I do see a better world, though, and I look forward to moving toward it, in fits and starts, as we humans are wont to do. I look forward to the continuing spread of Enlightenment values and sensibilities: reason, science, peace, and trade. I look forward to the further democratization of human life through that most democratic of institutions: the market. Instead of imposing majority (or plurality) preferences on each other in alternating cycles as the pendulum swings from left to right, the market allows multiple options to coexist peacefully. The more we can allow each other the freedom to live our lives as we see fit, without trying to force our values down each other’s throats, the more experiments in living we can carry out, with all the benefits that we know experimentation brings.

It is important to note that this better world does not rely, as Marxist and other utopias do, on a violation of human nature. We are flawed and fallible creatures, which is a good reason not to invest in some of us the power to rule over others. We tend to act for ourselves in the first instance, and for others only in widening and weakening circles of empathy, but how could it be otherwise? As long as we do not initiate force against each other, this egoism can spur us to serve each other through positive-sum trade, and can even be a fountainhead of creativity.

I look forward to a time when the legitimacy of peacefully pursuing your own interests is more widely recognized. On a related note, I look forward to a time when actions are not judged primarily by their “good” intentions, but by their actual effects. Many altruistic or seemingly altruistic acts do more harm than good, and many egoistic ones are immensely beneficial. To judge according to intentions alone is to care more about appearing virtuous than about actually working toward a better world.

We have already come so far, and I am truly grateful to the giants of the past who gave so much of themselves—altruistically perhaps, but with a deep and healthy egoism as well, I am convinced. And I look forward with optimism, in this age of information, that we will do what it takes to continue to evolve our institutions and bring them more in line with the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of humankind.

Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is Le Québécois Libre’s English Editor.

Third Interview of Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov by Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club – May 2, 2015

Third Interview of Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov by Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club – May 2, 2015

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov
September 6, 2015

ELFC_DIW_Third_InterviewNote by Mr. Stolyarov: On May 2, 2015, a hot spring day in Roseville, California, Wendy Stolyarov and I visited Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club and had a lengthy discussion with him on a wide variety of subjects: life extension, our illustrated children’s book Death is Wrong, healthcare policy, criminal punishment, and the political prospects of the Transhumanist Party and third parties in general. This was Roen’s third interview with us (watch the first and second interviews as well), and his skillfully edited recording offers a glimpse into its best segments. This conversation occurred approximately four months before Wendy and I took the step to found the Nevada Transhumanist Party, but my comments in this interview are a good example of the evolution of my thinking in this direction, as I was already inclined toward endorsing Zoltan Istvan’s 2016 Presidential run.

Watch the interview here.

Join the Nevada Transhumanist Party here.

Illiberal Belief #15: Everyone Is Selfish – And That’s Bad – Article by Bradley Doucet

Illiberal Belief #15: Everyone Is Selfish – And That’s Bad – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
March 11, 2015

Liberty is won and preserved not primarily with guns, but with ideas. Spreading freedom requires that we spread an understanding of the benefits freedom brings, that we explain to whomever will listen how freedom is really in everyone’s best interest. In making the case for a truly free society, however, we will inevitably come up against a wide array of illiberal beliefs that keep others from embracing our vision of a better world. The more we seek to understand those beliefs, the better we will be able to counter them and address the concerns that underlie them. In this ongoing series, I address some of the issues we can expect to face, along with brief outlines of the kinds of responses I think can be helpful.


Is it true, as cynics believe, with some backup from certain schools of economics, that everybody is selfish? Well, no. But even if it were true, is being selfish really such a bad thing anyway? The answer to this question depends on what you mean by “selfish.”

The traditional view of selfishness, promoted by religion but maintained by many secular thinkers as well, is that it is bad. According to this view, a selfish person thinks only of his own interests, disregarding the interests of others. Such a person might steal from, lie to, betray, or at the extreme even go so far as to murder others in order to get his way.

But is this really a selfish way of acting? It’s a petty, criminal, malevolent way of acting, to be sure—but does a person really serve his own interests by stealing, lying, betraying, or murdering? It might serve one’s immediate interests to have more money, avoid responsibility for something, or do away with someone who stands in one’s way, but what about the longer-term consequences? Embracing a life of crime, aside from eating away at your soul, for lack of a better word, will very likely come back to bite you, landing you in jail or in an early grave. It’s not a great way to make friends, either.

A person who is selfish and rational takes the longer-term consequences of his actions into account when deciding how to act, what kind of life to lead, what kind of person to be. A rationally selfish person doesn’t cheat or steal, but instead works hard, learns about the world, respects the rights of others, and builds lasting, fulfilling relationships—the kinds of things that are actually in a person’s best long-term interests. This is the kind of view taken by philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, who titled one of her collections of essays The Virtue of Selfishness. This kind of rational self-interest is not something to be lamented, but something to be celebrated, leading to greater wealth and happiness for all.

Those who moan that everyone is selfish have the first kind of selfishness in mind, the bad kind, but clearly not everyone is a thug or a cheat. True criminals are a tiny minority in any civilization. Most people follow some kind of moral code, however mixed up and unexamined it may be. They feel the need, not only to enjoy lives full of rewards, but also to deserve those rewards. They want not merely to have good lives, but to be good people. This simple, basic truth flies in the face of what the cynics out there would have us believe.

The economists who inadvertently lend some support to the cynics have the other kind of selfishness in mind, the good kind. Economists since at least Adam Smith have been unable to deny the beneficial side-effects of lawful self-interested action—though they have not, as a rule, been as unapologetically enthusiastic about it as Rand.

In an article entitled “The Denial of Virtue” published in the January/February 2008 edition of Society, sociology professor Amitai Etzioni takes on economists and other social scientists who are quick to explain away charitable behaviour as a way to get tax deductions, volunteer work as a way to meet other singles, or heroic acts as the result of “hard-wiring.” Etzioni tells us about experiments suggesting that many people do not “free ride” even when they think they can get away with it. He also points out that many people vote, even though they know the chances that their vote will make a difference are close to nil. In these and other cases, people plausibly report that their actions are motivated not by self-interest but by what they think is right, by what they think they ought to do.

I think Etzioni is correct, as far as this goes. The claims of economists and social scientists that all actions are self-interested—that whatever people choose to do necessarily reflects their calculations of costs and benefits for themselves—is belied by clear cases of people acting out of a sense of duty, either to god or society or their parents.

Where I part company with Etzioni is in believing that this sense of duty is a good thing. Etzioni can point to people doing good out of a sense of duty, but I can point to people disowning their natural desires for pleasure out of a sense of religious duty; sacrificing their rights out of a sense of national duty; abandoning a career or a mate out of a sense of duty to their parents. I do believe in virtue, but I believe that duty is its enemy. Duty ethics ask you to adhere to a set of rules, whereas virtue ethics ask you to live up to an ideal, which is a very different focus.

It is a good thing people are not all selfish in the narrow, petty way the cynics imagine them to be, but it is actually unfortunate that people are not all rationally self-interested in the way social scientists suppose. This kind of rational self-interest not only has beneficial spill-over effects, but is in fact a virtue—it leads people to act virtuously, to live fulfilling lives, and to be good people. As Dr. Nathaniel Branden wrote in “Isn’t Everyone Selfish?” published in the Rand book mentioned above, this rhetorical question, though intended as a cynical jab, actually “pays mankind a compliment it does not deserve.” Hopefully, more and more of mankind will deserve it as they increasingly embrace the virtue of rational self-interest and reject not only petty, narrow selfishness but also the heavy hand of duty.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.

Freedom Encourages Goodwill to All – Article by Bradley Doucet

Freedom Encourages Goodwill to All – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
December 18, 2014
“Christopher Hitchens on libertarians: ‘I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement in the U.S. that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.'”

A friend posted the above statement on Facebook a few weeks ago, along with a photo of the late Christopher Hitchens, and added the following comment of his own: “He was often a complete idiot (being a contrarian was his fatal, childish flaw), but in this case, he’s right on target.” I couldn’t help myself; I responded, no doubt unhelpfully, that although Hitchens was always an entertaining writer, he was as childishly wrong about this as he could possibly be.

In the spirit of the season, let me take a few moments here to try to be a bit more helpful. First of all, to clarify, far from thinking that Americans are not yet selfish enough, libertarians think that human beings are not yet free enough, whether they live in Bangor, Maine or Bangladesh. Whether you use the greater liberty libertarians want you to have to help your fellow man or to go off and live in the woods by yourself is strictly speaking immaterial. Freedom makes you free; what you do with that freedom is up to you, and has nothing really to do with libertarianism.

To be fair to Hitchens, though, there are some libertarians who explicitly endorse a form of selfishness, and these are probably the people to whom he was referring. They are fans and followers of Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Provocatively enough, Rand wrote a book entitled The Virtue of Selfishness, so part of the blame falls on her shoulders for preferring provocation over clarity. Because the selfishness to which this title alludes is more properly called rational or enlightened self-interest.

As anyone who has actually read Rand’s work will confirm, the selfishness that she advocated amounts to saying: Your life belongs to you. It does not belong to your parents, or your neighbour, or your honourable representatives in government. It is yours to live as you see fit. But as a direct and explicit corollary, neither does your neighbour’s life belong to you. Neither a slave nor a master be.

The alternative to dealing with other human beings through the use of force, as masters and slaves, is to deal with each other voluntarily, as traders, offering value for value. If your self-interested end is to become rich, the only way to do so while respecting the code of honour promulgated by Ayn Rand is to offer other people something they want and are willing to pay you for. What a rotten, selfish bitch, eh?

In fact, liberating people to enrich themselves through trade and innovation, and assigning dignity to this pursuit of material plenty, is precisely what has made large swaths of the world so fabulously wealthy by historical standards. Criticizing the “selfishness” of honest, hard-working, creative people who just want to improve their lot—as did a feature on the rise of China in this weekend’s Globe and Mail—therefore risks undoing the great material progress of modern civilization.

The notion that forcing people to be less self-interested would promote anything but resentment is really difficult for me to wrap my head around, Hitch’s wisecracks notwithstanding. If we want to promote a feeling of goodwill to all, we need to let people be free to enrich themselves by providing value to others. Only to the extent that we come to see each other primarily as sources of value rather than as threats to our security, as traders rather than as masters and slaves, will we approach that other Christmas ideal: peace on Earth.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.
Second Interview of Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov by Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club – November 27, 2014

Second Interview of Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov by Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club – November 27, 2014

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov II
November 27, 2014

Today Wendy Stolyarov and I had an excellent second interview and conversation with Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club. We discussed our recent activities related to the life-extension movement, the impact of “Death is Wrong”, and many philosophical and practical ideas surrounding the pursuit of indefinite longevity.

Watch the recorded interview here.

The Rejection of the Practical-Moral Dichotomy in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Rejection of the Practical-Moral Dichotomy in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 19, 2014
Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2004 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 19, 2014
Howard Roark was never a man to conform to “mainstream” attitudes. At the Stanton Institute of Technology, Roark refuses to design Tudor chapels and French opera houses, instead exercising his individual reasoning in the creation of aesthetic features that fortify the individual integrity of his buildings. Upon entering the professional field, Roark signs building contracts on one crucial condition; that he be permitted to erect his structures exactly as he had devised them. At first, it seems that Roark is treading a path destined to ruin his career and prospects for success, for his acts counter the conventional “wisdom” that man can either be practical or moral, “flexible” or principled, fulfilled in body or in spirit, but not both. He is expelled from Stanton, and attracts few clients to his office. However, in Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, Roark’s ultimate triumph demonstrates a staunch rejection of the practical-moral dichotomy and the possibilities that liberation therefrom can bring the individual creator.

Roark’s success is rooted in a proper identification of practicality and morality. Roark refuses to superfluously ornament his buildings at the expense of structural efficacy. He recognizes unique qualities to every building material and refuses to make “copies in steel and concrete of copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood,” not wishing to blindly follow the obsolete techniques of the past like sacred doctrine (24). When Roark develops the Heller House, he endows the building with elements that blend together its function and appearance, including no false pillars or deceptive facades. Roark thinks that “a house can have integrity, just like a person, and just as seldom” and Heller agrees that every slightest routine performed in such a consistent dwelling is filled with “dignity and honesty.” (136) Roark’s notion of practicality is one of strict purpose and reason. He crafts his buildings giving objective consideration to all the facts and tools at his disposal. His Monadnock Valley Resort, for example, seems a natural extension of its landscape. Roark employs his brilliant skills in mathematics and structural engineering to bring forth sensible structures that captivate their residents. Though the Monadnock Valley Resort had been intended to fail by the firm that contracted Roark, from its very opening, it is filled for a year in advance. Despite initial difficulties, Roark’s perseverance enables him to find clients who appreciate his love of coherence and principle. Jimmy Gowan and John Fargo request that Roark create a gas station and store, buildings which would attract consumers as a result of their originality and convenience. Roger Enright, a self-made businessman, offers Roark to construct his home, and is immensely pleased with the results. Eventually, even the great newspaper magnate, Gail Wynand, selects Roark to build those structures that represent Wynand’s actual values and individual character, his home, which is meant as a tribute to Wynand’s wife Dominique, and the Wynand Building, “a monument to [his] life” (593).

Roark’s architectural career is ultimately a grand triumph due the fortitude of Roark’s moral principles and approach toward work. Roark is a staunch egoist and individualist. He summarizes his philosophy: “I’m never concerned with my clients, only with their architectural requirements.” (578) He builds not for the sake of appeasing the public, or gathering prestige, or riding the accomplishments of others as does the second-hander, but rather due to his ardent devotion to the creation itself. He recognizes that “to get things done, you must love the doing, not the secondary consequences. The work, not the people. Your own action, not any possible object of your charity.” (578) In his moral quest, Roark pursues the fulfillment of his ego’s designs; everything else is a means to this end. Thus, Roark refuses to modify his designs for the sake of pandering to others’ petty whims and blind tradition-worship. When the government initiates a low-rent housing project for the poor, Roark sees no inherent nobility in sacrificing public funds for such an endeavor. However, he is interested in the problem of cost-efficient homes and yearns to see his solution materialized. He therefore strikes an agreement with his ex-competitor, the second-hander architect Peter Keating, in which he allows Keating to turn in Roark’s work as Keating’s own, if Roark is promised that Cortlandt Homes will be designed exactly as planned. Despite Keating’s best efforts, however, the arch-collectivist Ellsworth Toohey, who informally controls the project, transforms it into a “cooperative job,” allowing two more architects to meddle with Roark’s design and rob it of much of its efficacy by adding costly, useless ornamentation. This is a colossal moral infraction that Roark cannot sanction. He responds to the desecration of his work by detonating the entire building complex.

Justifying his action at his trial, Roark states that “the form was mutilated by two second-handers who assumed the right to improve upon that which they had not made and could not equal.” (683) He is outraged at those who would sacrifice a creator’s autonomy for any “greater purpose,” who would turn a mutually profitable exchange into the enslavement of one for the sake of others. His entire prior career, his selective approach toward clients preserved his freedom to build intact, but when the pseudo-morality of altruism attempts to turn him into a vehicle for the whims of collectives, Roark responds with a forthright affirmation of his right to exist for his own sake and no one else’s. He is exonerated and, because of his unequivocal, firm approach to both practicality and morality, able to win in both matter and spirit. Enright purchases the Cortlandt site for Roark so that Roark’s design can indeed come into existence. The book ends with Roark atop the Wynand Building, at the highest point in New York, symbolic of his triumph over all obstacles and his attainment of the most exalted success and happiness possible, standing upon the work of his own mind.

For Roark, practicality is reason and morality is egoism; the two are compatible and mutually reinforcing. This unity does not exist in the minds of most of the other characters in the book. Peter Keating believes that practicality is conformity. He surrenders his personal aspiration to become an artist to his mother’s urgings that he enter architecture. His entire career rides on borrowing others’ borrowed elements for his buildings or borrowing Roark’s originality. Keating’s greatest “accomplishment”, the Cosmo-Slotnick Building, is built in the Renaissance style (to please Ralston Holcombe, one of the judges, who appreciates only Renaissance buildings) and employs Roark’s structural features. Keating is autonomous neither in his engineering nor in his aesthetics. While with Roark, these disciplines are an inseparable alloy drawn from his mind, with Keating, they are a haphazard mix of something from everything and nothing in particular. At the twilight of his architectural career, the defeated Keating confesses that he has never built anything original in his entire life. Whereas for Roark, morality is forthright pride, for Keating, it is guilty appeasement. Whereas Roark knows his own worth, Keating must constantly find it in the reassurance of others, especially his confidant, Ellsworth Toohey. He is glad to hear that he as an individual is unimportant and that his true purpose is servitude to others and a sacrifice of everything, including his own happiness. For Keating has, through his endless pandering and borrowing, surrendered his ego for absolutely nothing, to be brushed aside by the collectives to whom he paid tribute as soon as “modern architecture” replaces his classical eclecticism. When Toohey finally bares the monstrous essence of altruism before Keating and reveals his true intent to rule the world and crush the human spirit, Keating is horrified, but can do nothing to oppose Toohey or resist his manipulations. While Keating, the “practical” man in the conventional sense of the term, has given up his convictions for fleeting prestige, he left the field of the moral to the sadists of the soul.

In the beginning of the novel, Dominique Francon does not believe that the moral and the practical can be reconciled. She tells of a time when she destroyed a beautiful statue because she thought it incompatible with the essential nature of existence-pain, distortion, and suffering. She appreciates genuine talent in Roark’s buildings, but deems them “too perfect” to exist in a world where every tainted member of the multitudes would desecrate them with his presence. Therefore, she prefers to side with Roark’s persecutors, as she views ultimate power to be in the hands of the immoral. She attempts to sacrifice herself to Peter Keating, the man she would love least, by intentionally marrying him and performing physical favors for others in order to get him commissions. Then she surrenders herself to Gail Wynand, a man who is a moral egoist in his private life but a vehicle for mob sentiments in his public. Though she does not love Wynand, she finds in him an appreciation for her as a woman who recognizes true beauty and morality, even if she views it to be doomed to defeat. Dominique’s outlook changes as she witnesses Roark’s perseverance in the face of societal pressures. Though Wynand loves to break men of integrity for sport, Roark eventually wins Wynand’s devotion, his quest for the right to use his mind, and Dominique’s hand in marriage.

Just as Dominique recognizes that both the moral and practical can triumph in a man of firm convictions, so does The Fountainhead demonstrate the insight that Rand would later express as a groundbreaking discovery in Objectivist ethics: “The practical is the moral.”

Responses to an Inquiry on Ethics, Human Purpose, and the Future of Humanity – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Responses to an Inquiry on Ethics, Human Purpose, and the Future of Humanity – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 5, 2013

A recent philosophical exchange with reader Elu Sive on TRA’s “About Mr. Stolyarov” page was sufficiently interesting and constructive that I have decided to post it here for a general audience. Elu Sive raised ten points of view and requested my feedback, which I subsequently provided. Here, I will cite each of the points and my response.

Elu Sive Point 1: “There is an objective reality.”

My Response: I agree in full.

Elu Sive Point 2: “The purpose of democracy is mainly a means of fighting corruption and promoting the interests of the people as opposed to those in power. It is not a valid method to select the correct answer among alternatives and should never be used as such.”

My Response: I agree. The will of the majority does not determine truth, nor does it necessarily coincide with good policy. Moreover, most decisions should be left up to individuals to implement, so long as such implementation can be done non-coercively. Democracy is only useful in the highly limited context where conflicts of preference are unavoidable and necessarily involve some people’s preferences being overridden. For instance, if only one person can be the neighborhood sheriff, then it makes sense to put the issue to a majority vote. However, even then, the powers of the neighborhood sheriff should be highly limited to the protection of individual rights, and not their violation.

Elu Sive Point 3: “Science is the best method we have for evaluating what is true and not.”

My Response: I agree, especially when science is defined broadly to include logic and mathematics. More generally, rational inquiry based on real-world observation and logical deduction therefrom is the best method we have for evaluating what is true and not.

Elu Sive Point 4: “Our human existence is only meaningful in our social contexts, to our selves and to future generations (our existence is not meaningful in universal or spiritual fashion).”

My Response: Here I disagree. Our existence is meaningful per se and as the antecedent to all meaning and value. My video series “Life as the Basis of Morality” (see Part 1 and Part 2) explains my reasoning. I agree with Ayn Rand’s statement: “I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction.”

Elu Sive Point 5: “We should place a greater emphasis on our social context and future generations than on our selves. We should favor altruism over self-reliance.”

My Response: Here I also disagree. While I advocate considering the future and taking a longer-term view of one’s actions, as well as considering one’s impact on the world and on others, all of this should be done to promote one’s own enlightened, rational self-interest, particularly in the continuation of one’s own life and flourishing. Each individual is, by nature, best suited to promote his own well-being. In promoting his own well-being, the individual should be concerned about the well-being of others and should seek ways to exchange values with others to promote mutual flourishing. Complete autarky is impossible and undesirable; we can gain great values and improve our lives tremendously by interacting with others. However, each individual’s moral self-reliance – in the sense of thinking for oneself, acting out of one’s own initiative, and valuing one’s own productive work and independence from subjugation to the arbitrary dictates of others – is paramount for creating a world where human flourishing is maximized to the extent possible.

Elu Sive Point 6: “What classifies as common good depends on circumstances and must be continuously re-evaluated.”

My Response: What is good for people does depend on the specific context, but it is still rooted in objective requirements of human survival and flourishing. As a simple example, there are some items that can give our bodies energy if we consume them, while there are others that would poison us. The objective requirements of human survival and flourishing depend on the laws of nature, which are universally valid, though their applicability will differ based on the context. The correct answer in a given situation is like the correct choice of tool for constructing a building; it depends on what part you are working on, with what materials, in what setting, and for what goal (in terms of the values you are trying to realize). Multiple answers will be good enough for a particular problem, but some answers are clearly superior to others in achieving human survival and flourishing. That being said, it is important to continually use one’s rational faculty to evaluate the soundness of possible approaches on a case-by-case basis.

Elu Sive Point 7: “Our social context is only meaningful in the long-term context of supporting and improving human civilization, or a possible post-human civilization.”

My Response: I agree with the goal of improving human and possibly post-human civilization (though I prefer the term “transhuman”, since I think that technological transformations will amplify and supplement our humanity, enabling us to transcend existing limitations, rather than take our humanity away). I think that human societal interactions can serve multiple valuable purposes both in the immediate term and in the long term. In the immediate term, it is certainly good that grocery stores exist in one’s vicinity to enable one to obtain food and other conveniences. The shorter-term interactions, as long as they are compatible with long-term perspectives and values, can certainly be of value as well.

Elu Sive Point 8: “The defining character of our age as judged by future civilization will be: short-shortsightedness and extreme individualism.”

My Response: I agree that there is considerable short-sightedness in our era, though it is probably less than in previous eras, when the average human lifespan was several times shorter than today. The extreme individualism, though, is not a phenomenon that I observe. I see all too many people bound by thoughtless traditions and norms, while refusing to think about matters on principle (instead of being attached to the concrete institutions and thought patterns that are fed to them by “opinion leaders” and the surrounding culture). The true individualist, who takes charge of his own life and is willing to engage in innovative thinking which transforms the world, is quite rare still. If asked to characterize our era, I would describe it as a time when the knowledge to solve many of the world’s problems is already available and accessible, but the willpower to solve these problems and overcome the constraints of obsolete institutions is lacking. I also see our era as characterized by a race between accelerating technological progress and increasingly outrageous authoritarian intervention.

Elu Sive Point 9: “We should practice future-oriented altruism: just as we care for others in our immediate vicinity in order to create a better life for everyone, we should care for our [descendants] as predecessors have, or we wish them to have had.”

My Response: I agree that we should look forward into the future and consider how life would be then, and how our current actions would affect future living conditions. I do not think that our focus should solely be on future beings, though. I hope to personally see a better future, and to structure my actions to maximize my chances. I am, though, happy to have been born into a world where the many generations of humans before me have already created an infrastructure of knowledge and capital to enable a relatively comfortable way of life. The great challenge of our time is to secure our lives against the still-omnipresent forces of ruin, death, and decay.

Elu Sive Point 10: “We should aim to replace humanity with post-human beings, remedied from most of the flaws that plague the human psyche and physiology today and in the past.”

My Response: I agree with remedying existing human flaws and transcending human limitations, with the important caveat that I consider such actions to be consistent with and to amplify humanity. Importantly, I think that we ourselves should be the beneficiaries of these improvements, through new medical treatments and augmentations (especially radical life extension), as well as the eventual integration of biological and non-biological components.

Ayn Rand, Non-Atomistic Individualism, and the Dangers of Communitarianism – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Ayn Rand, Non-Atomistic Individualism, and the Dangers of Communitarianism – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 8, 2012

James Joseph argues in “Ayn Rand’s Paradox” that Rand’s “defense of individual freedom provides a self-defeating apologia for the American welfare state.” Mr. Joseph’s essay takes the communitarian view that, without the bulwark of “natural community” (including “shared duties” or “natural duties and obligations” or “claims from direct community”), the individual becomes increasingly reliant on government for every benefit in life.

Yet Mr. Joseph’s analysis portrays Ayn Rand as espousing a view that no serious thinker has ever held – the canard of atomistic individualism, which is often used by communitarians against those who do not think that communities can exist as superior entities apart from and greater than the individuals who constitute them. Mr. Joseph believes that “In fact, American statism’s apologia is the individual freedom so touted by Ayn Rand, complete with her denial of the claims of the community on the individual. One need look no further than the ‘Life of Julia’ campaign  to see that American statism is built around the idea of highly independent, atomized individuals that cannot be bothered with claims from direct community.”

True individualism is far from atomistic, and Rand saw this clearly. She wrote, for instance, that “Man gains enormous values from dealing with other men; living in a human society is his proper way of life—but only on certain conditions. Man is not a lone wolf and he is not a social animal. He is a contractual animal. He has to plan his life long-range, make his own choices, and deal with other men by voluntary agreement (and he has to be able to rely on their observance of the agreements they entered).” (“A Nation’s Unity,” The Ayn Rand Letter, II, 2, 3)

But Rand also correctly saw the individual as being primary and precedent to any “community” or “society” – although the conditions of a society can certainly constrain or empower an individual. In response to the questions “Is man a social animal?” and “Can he develop only in society?” Rand stated: “Man does live in society, not on a desert island. But that does not mean society ‘develops’ him. The expression ‘develops in society’ implies that man is a social animal. I believe no such thing. The issue here is: What is primary in a man’s development, society or his mind? Of course, his mind has primacy. Society cannot make or unmake him. An immoral society can mangle him and make it enormously difficult for him to develop properly psychologically. A rational society can help a man’s development a great deal. In a mixed society, the best minds and those who are strongest morally might withstand the pressure from society, whereas the average person will find it beyond his individual capacity and give up. Society cannot form a person. It cannot force him to accept ideas; but it can discourage him. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make man a social animal.” (Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A, edited by Robert Mayhew)

Rand properly recognized that individuals are not better off in insulated vacuums, apart from all other people. She acknowledged that man stands to gain greatly from interactions in society – but he can also come to great harm thereby. The question for Rand, and for all individualists, is not whether one should stand apart from society, but rather which relationships within society are most conducive to the flourishing of the individual, and which are to his detriment. Rand’s answer is that the conducive relationships are those of mutual benefit, where values are exchanged among all parties involved, and all parties seek to be better off and grant their consent to the arrangement. While Mr. Joseph thinks that, in this approach, “Ethics is collapsed into economics,” the truth is more complex and subtle. Economics describes the outcome of people’s existing value judgments (in the form of market prices, interest rates, and other phenomena) and does not directly comment on what individuals ought to value. It explains ubiquitous laws of human action that hold no matter what people happen to prefer.  Ethics, on the other hand, is directly concerned with what an individual should want to have and do – what a good life consists of and how it might be attained. Economics can inform you of the influences that result in the price of food, but it cannot tell you whether you ought to pursue food in the first place.

Rand’s Objectivist ethics arrives at the ultimate value of the individual’s life by recognizing that the very existence and meaningfulness of the idea of “value” depends on a living being that is capable of pursuing values. She writes, “The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.” (“The Objectivist Ethics” – quotation from John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged)

Unlike an individual human, a collective of any sort cannot, qua collective, breathe, eat, move, or perform any unitary action. To say that a collective can “act” is a misleading figure of speech. Such an “action” can be no more than an aggregation of the extremely disparate and individually motivated actions of a group’s members or participants. The relationships among a group’s members can be quite sophisticated, it is true, but they do not supersede – in terms of either their existence or their moral worth – the essential, indivisible, and indissoluble individualities of the participants.

That brings us to the substance of the disagreement. Mr. Joseph seems to infer that Rand’s individualism is incompatible with relationships within the family – such as the care for parents and children – or within a neighborhood – such as local mutual-aid societies or groups of volunteers. I do not see any reason why such incompatibility need be the case. The exchange of values can readily occur in these circumstances, even in the absence of formal legal contracts or direct exchanges of money. Values are far broader than money and can consist of intangible goods and services – such as friendship, intellectual improvement, esthetic enjoyment, and even love (see my essay “A Rational View of Love” for a detailed discussion). The key principle governing such relationships, to the extent that they are beneficial, is that they should be based on mutual consent as much as possible. Even in cases where full informed consent cannot be given – as with children, pets, or senile elders – consent should be sought to the extent that a living creature is capable of exercising it non-destructively, and a presumption must always exist that a dependent creature would act in a life-preserving and life-enhancing manner if it had greater knowledge and ability to do so.

A respect for the principle of consent in relationships of dependency would imply, for instance, that children should not be forced to accept styles of clothing which they detest or espouse opinions which they do not personally hold through their own conviction; that pets should not be humiliated or restrained from non-destructive inclinations; and that elders should not be infantilized and should be empowered to manage their own affairs to every extent their physical faculties (in combination with technology) permit.

What Rand detested, and what many individualists likewise abhor, is the idea of top-down or compulsory “community” – of the sort that tries to deliberately (inevitably, through the wishes of some central planner or committee thereof) herd people into artificially constructed relationships for the purpose of building “togetherness” (or some comparably disingenuous justification). Compulsory national “service” – be it military or civilian – is the prime example of such exploitation of individuals in order to fulfill the power ambitious of the elites creating the “communities” of cannon fodder or work drones.

Additionally, a misguided perception of the purpose of societal interactions can lead to good people being subverted and shackled by their moral lessers. A misperceived sense of the value of “community” for its own sake (apart from any values for the individuals involved) could lead to the persistence of abuse within families; the continual funding of corrupt, dysfunctional, and even perverse churches or other civic organizations due to ingrained guilt or a sense of disembodied obligation among the contributors; the tolerance of incompetent “old boys’ networks” running local governments, because they are part of the “social fabric” and a deference to tradition prevents their being supplanted by a meritocracy. This kind of perverse communitarianism is a prime example of what Rand called “the sanction of the victim” – as it cannot thrive without the endorsement and participation of the good people who create resources upon which the abusers and parasites prey.  In even worse times and places, the willingness to accept communities over and above individuals has led to thoughtless conformity about the desirability of harming individuals perceived as being “other” or “outside” of the community – persons of different skin colors, national origins, religions, peaceful lifestyles, or peaceful political persuasions.  The vicious tribalist impulse is still strong in all too many humans, and it should not be stoked.

A misguided communitarianism has already resulted in the mangling of the first two decades of most Americans’ lives in the form of compulsory “public” schooling – where academic learning takes second stage to “socializing” the students with one another, which typically means that the best of them will be mercilessly bullied by the worst, while the rest lose themselves in pointless fads and clique rivalries. The travesty of compulsory public schooling serves as a prominent demonstration that – while Mr. Joseph seeks to posit an opposition between the Leviathan and communitarianism – the two go hand-in-hand more often than not. The Leviathan often employs communitarian rhetoric while representing itself as the entity that gets to define and structure the “community” in question.

Are we dependent on other people for much of what is good in life? Certainly! But this, far from requiring a communitarian viewpoint, is actually the implication of a consistent individualism. No one person can know everything or learn to do everything. In order for each of us to maximize our well-being, we need to specialize in some activities while relegating the rest to our fellow humans – with whom we then exchange the fruits of our respective labor. In a market economy based on the principle of individualism, each of us literally depends on the efforts of millions of others to produce the goods and services we daily enjoy.  Truly sustainable economies and societies – ones that operate without degenerating into violence or mass poverty – require that we treat others with the respect needed to facilitate these ongoing transactions. With a small circle of these individuals, we are able to form even closer ties, where formal transactions are not required to maintain ongoing value-trades. In a household, for instance, it is simply more efficient to keep a rough mental picture of other participants’ contributions, rather than itemizing everything in minute detail. Furthermore, the ability to closely trust others in one’s family (provided that it is a good one, without abuse, deception, or exploitation) eliminates the need for most of the typical safeguards of commerce among strangers. Similarly, a custom of volunteer work in one’s neighborhood might result in the capture of certain “positive externalities” – such as the benefits of cleaner streets, happier (and therefore more productive and peaceful) residents, and lower rates of vandalism and other crimes.

Perhaps Ayn Rand’s individualism, properly understood, would allow for precisely the ideal sense of the “natural community” that Mr. Joseph extols – one in which individuals engage in a variety of interactions (many of them non-monetary) to mutual benefit and thereby develop strong ties. Unfortunately, in practice, the explicit idealization of the “community” has not been an effective way of achieving such an outcome. It has, indeed, resulted in the very opposite: an insidious and manipulative elite, or a conformist and prejudiced majority (often incited by that same elite), limiting the freedoms and sometimes ruining the lives of those who wish to use their rational faculties to find a better way.

Creation of an Ethical Business: The Implementation of Virtuous Behavior and Shared Values and Goals – Article by Jessica L. Kuryn

Creation of an Ethical Business: The Implementation of Virtuous Behavior and Shared Values and Goals – Article by Jessica L. Kuryn

The New Renaissance Hat
Jessica L. Kuryn
May 10, 2012

IN TODAY’S COMPETITIVE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT, a growing number of firms will do almost anything to gain sales and customers, as well as to increase profits.  For some of these firms, playing by the rules doesn’t achieve the results they are after.  Firms have the choice to act ethically or unethically.  While misguided managers think that unethical behavior can lead the firm, and ultimately themselves, to greater profits over the long term, it is only for the short term.  It will eventually lead to their downfall in that unethical behavior spirals out of control and can be very difficult to maintain.  Once this occurs, a firm’s reputation becomes tarnished and the company fades into non-existence.  On the contrary, “firms that pursue ethically driven strategies realize a greater profit potential than those firms who currently use profit-driven strategies” (Arjoon 159).

The point is that a firm’s leaders do have a choice in how they conduct business.  Creating an ethical business does not happen overnight.  It takes extensive collaboration and several implementation and evaluation processes, as well as continual reinforcement of and changes to established practices and values.  Perhaps one of the most important aspects to creating an ethical business is that it requires cooperation on multiple organizational levels and the implementation of virtuous behavior and values.

Maintaining ethical practices, once implemented, is an ongoing process.  There are many factors that can affect ethical behavior, such as competition for customers and market share, the need for increased profits, and management incentives.  Some firms, such as BB&T have been able to implement an ethical environment that has led to firm success, while others such as Enron, have succumbed to greed and wrongdoing, and no longer are in existence.  BB&T’s story of success will be discussed later in this paper.


Business ethics can be defined as “the applied ethics discipline that addresses the moral features of commercial activity” (Marcoux).  The question we have to ask concerning business ethics is how they can be applied to a business.  One of the most important aspects in creating an ethical business entails the need for new and refined organizationalvalues.  A value, as defined by Ayn Rand in Younkins’s article, is “that which one acts to gain and/or keep” (Younkins 9). Antonio Argandoña suggests a business must first identify its currently existing values and from that develop what values are needed (Argandoña 22).  In identifying these needed values, it is crucial that businesses select values that pertain to both the business’s goals, as well as the employees’ goals.  Congruence between the goals of the business and its employees increase the chances that the valueswill be received well and adhered to.

Once the desired values and goals have been determined, it falls in the hands of management to implement and communicate them.  “At the top level of an organization, it takes effective communicators who are clear about what they champion and who establish the company on virtuous behavior” (Younkins 21).Virtues, which are also defined by Ayn Rand in Younkin’s article, are “the act[s] by which one gains and/or keeps an objective value” (Younkins 11).  It is crucial for each employee and manager to establish virtues within themselves in order to pursue individual and organizational values, as well as keep them once they have been successfully implemented.It is the responsibility of management to ensure that these values are clearly communicated and followed, while established virtuous behavior becomes the mean by which these values flourish and exist.“A culture (or climate) of virtue in a business begins with executives who exhibit virtuous leadership through their personal actions and interpersonal relationships” (Younkins 21).

In displaying virtuous behavior throughout an organization, managers are setting an example for employees.   “Employees are influenced by observing visible and legitimate role models who themselves act as virtuous agents.  Not only should leaders openly discuss virtues and values, they should also live the virtues and values that they advocate” (Younkins 21).  I believe that this is one of the most important aspects in creating and sustaining an ethical business environment.  As explained by Kouzes and Posner in Minkes, Small, and Chatterjee’s article, “…leaders who could not personally adhere to a firm set of values, could not convince others of the worthiness of those values” (Minkes, Small, and Chatterjee 330).  People learn through example.  Therefore, managers should be mindful of this and back up their words with consistent virtuous behaviors that champion the organization’s values.

Once organizational values have been implemented, only half of the work has been done.  The remaining half is a continual and never ending process within the business.  In maintaining an ethical business, ongoing promotion and reinforcement is necessary.  Management must continue to display ethical behavior, while continuing to communicate values to employees.  This also includes communicating what actions are and are not acceptable.  Employee evaluations should also frequently be performed, in which employees are evaluated on values implemented by the organization’s managers.  In addition, management also needs to develop systems that reward value-oriented behaviors and reprimand value-destructive behaviors.

In regards to a reward system, “employees should be objectively appraised and compensated based on their contribution toward achieving a firm’s mission, values, and goals” (Younkins 19).  Employees may receive monetary or recognition awards for their display of virtuous and ethical behavior.  In establishing such incentives, there is an encouragement that exists among employees to accept and display the organization’s values and goals.  In addition, such incentives create a pathway in which individuals can fulfill their own self-interests and goals simultaneously.  “The good manager tries to shape employees’ ideas about self-interest by instituting incentives rewarding cooperation and reinforcing the pleasure people take in collaborating with each other” (Koehn 498). When employees act ethically, the business is also handsomely rewarded in that it gains a good reputation as being an ethically driven business.  This can lead to higher profits in that consumers will be more likely to choose that particular business over competitors because of its reputation.  “Many companies are now realizing that ethically driven strategies are resulting in a sustainable competitive advantage” (Arjoon 168).  In addition, “companies that have seriously adopted ethically driven or people-centered strategies have seen clear gains in productivity, sales and profits, customer service, retention rates, reduction in absenteeism, positive impact on employee morale, [and] increased and timely launching of products” (Arjoon 169).

Adversely, a disciplinary system is also necessary in order to maintain organization values and ethically driven behavior that have already been established.  Employees should be aware of the possible repercussions of their actions in advance, and management needs to ensure disciplinary actions are followed through with when dealing with value-destructive behaviors.  This sends a message to employees that unethical behavior will not be tolerated and it should be avoided at all costs.

The acts of Enron and WorldCom have increased consumer demands for ethically driven organizations.  Therefore, the businesses that make ethics a priority will likely obtain a sustainable competitive advantage because more consumers will choose to do business with them.  In today’s economy and business world, businesses must place a large focus on ethics in order to be successful.


Implementing a form of virtue ethics and values throughout a business can be very challenging, but maintaining it can be just as difficult.  There are many factors that can affect ethical behavior and lead a manager or employee to act unethically.  Competition for customers and increased market share, as well as the need for more profit are common issues that can lead to unethical behavior.  In addition, management incentives, such as bonuses, pay increases, promotions, and stock options can open the gateway for unethical behavior.

With a specific focus on profit, businesses that have an urgency to increase profits are likely to engage in false reporting.  Reporting false financial information makes a business’s financial statements look more appealing to investors and gives a false pretense that the business is in better financial health than it really is.  In addition, management may inflate earnings if they receive bonuses, pay increases, or promotions for increasing profits.  These monetary compensations can prove beneficial for businesses in that management will be more driven to make sales and increase wealth in the business.  Adversely, these monetary compensations can be dangerous if a manager works in his or her own interest and does not act ethically.  It could put the business in a financial position that is difficult to correct.

Stock options are another form of management compensation.  “Stock options allow employees to purchase a particular number of common shares of company stock at a specified price over a specified time period” (Brooks and Dunn 172).  Stock options can be beneficial in that they serve as a motivational devise.  When managers have an interest in the company they work for, they are more willing to strive towards an increase in stock prices.  Shareholders, as well as the managers, enjoy higher returns when stock prices increase.  In addition, stock options enable management to adopt the investor’s perspective in that theyenable both the interests of investors and management to be aligned.

One of the biggest problems with this is that unethical managers can work out of their own self-interest to falsely raise stock prices in order to earn more money.  With the incentive to earn more money comes the high possibility for unethical behavior and false reporting.  Managers that get used to these increasing stock prices are also the ones who will likely forego ethical standards and correct reporting procedures.  The concept of stock options can be extremely dangerous to a firm, especially when stock prices are truly in decline and these types of managers are present.  Reporting false income to increase these prices will eventually catch up to the firm and will result in the company’s non-existence.  Another problem with stock options is that management has the option to exercise their stock options and then sell them immediately.  This does not align with investor interests in that managers are only maintaining a short term perspective.  Making decisions based on the short term only hurts the long term investors.


BB&T is a fine example of a business that has been led to success through the values-driven approach adopted by one its leaders.  John Allison, former CEO of BB&T, now serves as the chairman of the board of directors.  During Allison’s time as CEO, the company has grown from approximately $5 billion in assets to $165 billion in assets.  This substantial growth has placed the company as the eighth largest financial institute in the United States.  Just a few of the issues BB&T has made a bold stand on are a municipality’s right to seize property by eminent domain for the purpose of economic development, and negative amortization loans.  Allison received national attention is his decision to “not provide loans for any economic development projects in which the land for the project had been taken in this manner” (Parnell and Dent 587).  This decision was not initially favored by many mortgage producers.

“When we made the decision not to do these loans, we got beat up in the market.  We also lost a number of mortgage producers who could make more money working for Countrywide – of course a number of these producers would now like to come back to BB&T.  We believe that doing our best to help our clients make the right financial decisions is good for BB&T.  I believe that while there may be short-term trade-offs by sticking to your values, you are never making a sacrifice in the long run, if your values are rational” (Parnell and Dent 589).

“Allison is known for, and attributes BB&T’s success to, operating by a set of principles that are embodied in BB&T’s Values Statement.  These ten values – Reality (Fact-Based), Reason (Objectivity), Independent Thinking, Productivity, Honesty, Integrity, Justice (Fairness), Pride, Self-Esteem (Self-Motivation), and Teamwork/Mutual (Supportiveness) – are not simply platitudes at BB&T but drive the decision-making process of the bank” (Parnell and Dent 588).  These values serve as the foundation that BB&T was built on.  As part of the evaluation process, employees are evaluated on their performance in accordance with the 10 values.  Those employees that perform in accordance with the values are rewarded.

Allison attributes Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism as the framework for these 10 values.  The main aspect of Objectivism is that it relies on truth and blocks out all emotions in the decision making process.  “The purpose of the process is to help you think rationally.  It is about not letting your emotions make decisions that are bad for you.  It is the ability to make logical decisions based on the facts and to pursue our purposes that makes us happy” (Parnell and Dent 591).

In addition, BB&T has also been viewed as being socially responsible.  Milton Friedman, who is referenced to in Parnell and Dent’s article, argues that there are two reasons as to why a firm should act socially responsible.  “First, not doing so can increase the likelihood of more costly government regulation.  A number of regulations over business operations were enacted because some firms refused to be socially responsible” (Parnell and Dent 593).  The second reason as to why a firm should act socially responsible is that “stakeholders affected by a firm’s social responsibility stance – most notably customers – are also those who must choose whether to transact business with the firm” (Parnell and Dent 593).  The point here is that if consumers do not think a firm is socially responsible, they have the option to do business with another company, and they will more than likely do so.  As discussed in Parnell and Dent’s article, studies have shown that consumers will be willing to pay more for products and services that are responsibly produced.  Simply, consumers favor ethically driven and responsible businesses, and will purchase products and services from them considering this factor.  This is why it is crucial for businesses in today’s economy and environment to be ethically driven and socially responsible.  With the events as seen in Enron and WorldCom, it has made consumers extra sensitive to firms and what approach they take in formulating profit.  Consumers want to be valued for their choice to do business with a particular firm, and they take enjoyment in purchasing products from these firms when they display ethically driven strategies.

From a market and environmental perspective, we could argue that BB&T is doing exceptionally well.  “From a market perspective, BB&T has delivered strong growth and financial performance since Allison’s appointment as CEO in 1989.  From a broad environmental perspective, BB&T’s business decisions defending eminent domain rights and eschewing negative amortization loans reflect support for a sustained society that respects personal property rights and responsible mortgage loan practices” (Parnell and Dent 594).  In respect to this, BB&T speaks on behalf of individuals and what they want.  While BB&T suffered somewhat in the short term, they were able to come out on top in the long run.  In my personal opinion, I have much more respect for companies like BB&T because they are willing to forgo potential profits and take a stand, even when it is not the popular decision.  Companies, like BB&T, will be around for years longer than the companies that jump on the popularity bandwagon.  They will also see considerably larger profits because they stand out among their competitors – just as BB&T has come to do


In conclusion, it is easy to see how BB&T has come to be a top competitor in the financial institution sector of business.  BB&T is a classic example of an ethically driven firm that has realized greater profits than the firms that have adopted a profit-driven strategy.  The implementation of ethics throughout an organization is a very difficult thing to do.  It requires substantial acceptance from employees and managers alike to be successful.  Most importantly, managers are the driving forces in implementing such a strategy throughout an organization.  They must be effective in communicating the values of an organization to employees, as well as lead by example.  Management cannot expect to preach values that they do not live by themselves.  After all, people learn through example.  A leader that lives by the values it communicates to employees has the best shot at having an ethically driven business.

In addition to the communication process, managers must provide incentives for desirable behavior.  A rewards system based on monetary or recognition awards are great ways to encourage cooperation and motivate employees.  This also encourages the creation of a pathway in which individuals can fulfill their self-interests.  These same values must also be a part of the evaluation process.  Just as there are rewards systems, management must also design a disciplinary system.  It is important that employees are aware in advance what they could encounter by not behaving in accordance with a firm’s values and policies.  Managers must also follow through with any disciplinary action to reinforce their importance on having a values-based business.

The benefits of implementing an ethically driven business strategy can be great, but it can be a difficult thing to do.  Competition for customers and increased market share, as well as the need for more profit are common issues that can lead to unethical behavior.  In addition, management incentives, such as bonuses, pay increases, promotions, and stock options can open the gateway for unethical behavior. However, if a firm is able to successfully implement an ethics-driven approach, these issues can be minimized and the interests of the firm and employees will be satisfied and aligned.  When a firm is able to align individual self-interests with its own interests, happiness and flourishing are more likely to occur for both.

Jessica Kuryn is a student in Wheeling Jesuit University’s Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) program.


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Thoughts on James Sterba’s “Liberty and Welfare” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Thoughts on James Sterba’s “Liberty and Welfare” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
April 14, 2012

In “Liberty and Welfare” (2007), James P. Sterba of the University of Notre Dame makes an argument that a libertarian society, grounded in the principle of classical enlightened egoism, would be consistent with a government-organized system of welfare, or redistribution of wealth from wealthier to poorer members of the society. There are some areas where I am in agreement with Sterba’s premises, and some areas of difference.

Sterba’s argument, essentially, is that enlightened self-interest renders it legitimate for a person to take the property of another in certain “conflict situations” – cases where doing so would save that person’s life (or not doing so would endanger that person’s life).  I acknowledge that there may be cases where it is legitimate to violate the property right of another in order to save one’s life – but only to the extent actually necessary to save one’s life and only if proper compensation is made afterward. For instance, suppose Person X is ejected from a burning airplane onto the vast estate of Person Y, a wealthy landowner with plenty of fruit orchards. Person Y is an absentee landowner, and is not able to give permission, and it would take Person X several days on foot to leave Person Y’s land. In my view, Person X can legitimately eat some of Person Y’s fruit so as to survive his journey. However, the proper course of action after Person X has returned to his normal life would be for him to contact Person Y and ask whether Person Y desires to be compensated for the fruit that was taken. There is, at that point, a likelihood that Person Y would be generous and overlook the incident, recognizing Person X’s need to survive. But, if this does not happen, Person X could offer Person Y a reasonable payment for the fruit. It is unlikely that Person Y would, for instance, turn down a payment that is several times the fruit’s market value.

As the loss of life is irreversible, while loss of many kinds of property can be undone through adequate compensation, in true emergency situations, it may be justified for someone else’s property to be put to use in truly saving an individual’s life. But this can only be carried out if confined to true emergencies, if done with minimal interference, and if adequate reparations are made afterward.

That being said, what I am referring to are true emergency situations – which are, by definition, acute events that subside after the cause of the emergency has passed. An ongoing situation where one person or a group of people appropriate the belongings of others without the consent of those others is not a justifiable position within a truly free society. Sterba’s paper borders on implying that there exists some group right for “the poor” to expropriate “the rich” without regard for the circumstances of specific individuals having either of these designations or for whether individuals called “the poor” could, in fact, manage to survive without such expropriation. If there is a way not to take another’s property without his consent and to still preserve human life, then that is the course of action that should be pursued.

Ultimately, Sterba’s argument leads to the support of some manner of redistributionist welfare system. Such a system may indeed be justified in an unfree or semi-free society, where artificial political privileges result in a non-meritocratic distribution of wealth – and where, for instance, inefficient and customer-unfriendly firms can achieve market dominance or incompetent individuals can come to control vast resources. The overall level of wealth in such societies is lower compared to a libertarian society, and there may be many “worthy poor” in such societies, who are poor for none of their fault and despite earnest efforts at improving their position. Indeed, the United States at present, with its massive levels of involuntary unemployment resulting from an economic bubble inflated by the Federal Reserve, could be considered to exist in such conditions. Thinkers such as Sheldon Richman have argued that, in such situations, welfare systems can be seen as secondary or “band-aid” interventions to mask or mitigate some of the harmful effects of the primary interventions (e.g., corporate subsidies, barriers to entry into markets, and laws that limit innovation and progress). While the secondary interventions bring their own unintended negative consequences, a national government that only practiced the primary interventions (which benefit and enrich a favored and politically connected elite) would be much worse in its effects. The only aspects of the secondary interventions that might be justified are those aspects that would undo some of the harms of the primary interventions and more closely approximate a meritocratic, individualistic, market-driven outcome.

I contrast “band-aid” welfare measures in a mixed economy – which could be justified – with redistribution of wealth by a government in an otherwise libertarian society – which would not be justified. Such redistribution of wealth would infringe on the justly earned property of numerous individuals, simply because they belong to some arbitrarily designated category (e.g., “the rich” – as defined by some artificial threshold). In a libertarian society, occasional emergencies might arise whereby one or a few people might legitimately avail themselves of the property of another, but only if they compensate the owner fairly afterward. But, by definition, such emergency treatment cannot apply across the board and as a systematic, ongoing matter. Furthermore, unlike the emergency treatment I described, a welfare system by definition redistributes wealth from some people to others, and does not compensate the people whose wealth has been redistributed. In a fully libertarian society, where all wealth is acquired based on the principles of merit and consent, such redistribution would be unjustified and harmful. It would, further, be unnecessary, as practically all people would be massively more prosperous than the majority of people are in today’s Western societies.