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Productivity Enhancement – Video Series by G. Stolyarov II

Productivity Enhancement – Video Series by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
June 2, 2013
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In this series on productivity enhancement, taken from Mr. Stolyarov’s e-book The Best Self-Help is Free, Mr. Stolyarov discusses the fundamental nature of productivity and approaches by which any person can become more productive.

This series is based on Chapters 7-14 of The Best Self-Help is Free.

Part 1 – What is Productivity?

The most reliable way to achieve incremental progress in your life is by addressing and continually improving your own productivity. Productivity constitutes the difference between a world in which life is nasty, brutish, and short and one in which it is pleasant, civilized, and ever-increasing in length.

Part 2 – Reason and the Decisional Component of Productivity

In order to properly decide what ought to be produced, man can ultimately consult only one guide: his rational faculty.

Part 3 – Perfectionism — The Number One Enemy of Productivity

Perfectionism engenders a pervasive sense of futility in its practitioner and mentally inhibits him from pursuing further productive work.

Part 4 – Quantification and Productivity Targets

Quantification enables an individual to set productivity targets for himself and to escape underachievement on one hand and perfectionism on the other.

Part 5 – Habit and the Elimination of the Quality-Quantity Tradeoff

A common fallacy presumes that there is a necessary tradeoff between the quantity of work produced and the quality of that work. By this notion, one can either produce a lot of mediocre units of output or a scant few exceptional ones. While this might be true in some cases, it overlooks several important factors.

Part 6 – The Importance of Frameworks for Productivity

Time-saving, productivity-enhancing frameworks can be applied on a personal level to enable one to overcome the human mind’s limited ability to hold and process multiple pieces of information simultaneously.

Part 7 – The Benefits of Repetition to Productivity

One of the most reliable ways to reduce the amount of mental effort per unit of productive output is to create many extremely similar units of output in succession. Mr. Stolyarov discusses the advantages of structuring one’s work so as to perform many similar tasks in close succession.

Part 8 – Making Accomplishments Work for You

Producing alone is not enough. If you just let your output lie around accumulating dust or taking up computer memory, it will not boost your overall well-being. Your accomplishments can help procure health, reputation, knowledge, safety, and happiness for you — if you think about how to put them to use.

Iterative Learning versus the Student-Debt Trap – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Iterative Learning versus the Student-Debt Trap – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov explains why the structure of formal schooling does not teach the ways in which real achievements are attained. The worst obstacle to true, iterative learning is student debt that locks people into a particular path for most of their lives.

References
– “Iterative Learning versus the Student-Debt Trap” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II – The Rational Argumentator. This essay was originally published on the as a guest post on the “Education Bubble and Scam Report” website.
– “Reasons Not to Pursue a PhD” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “Advice for Most Recent High-School and College Graduates” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Education” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Iterative Learning versus the Student-Debt Trap – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Iterative Learning versus the Student-Debt Trap – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 18, 2012
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This article was originally published as a guest post on the “Education Bubble and Scam Report” website.
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Contemporary formal schooling inculcates a counterproductive and often stressful fallacy into millions of young people – particularly the best and brightest. The fallacy, which undermines the lives of many, is that, when it comes to learning, productivity, and achievement, you have to get it absolutely right the first time. Consider how grades are assigned in school. You complete an assignment or sit for a test – and if your work product is deficient in the teacher’s eyes, or you answer some questions incorrectly, your grade suffers. It does not matter if you learn from your mistakes afterward; the grade cannot be undone. The best you can do is hope that, on future assignments and tests, you do well enough that your average grade will remain sufficiently high. If it does not – if it takes you longer than usual to learn the material – then a poor grade will be a permanent blot on your academic record, if you care about such records. If you are below the age of majority and prohibited from owning substantial property or working for a living, grades may be a major measure of achievement in your eyes. Too many hits to your grades might discourage you or lead you to think that your future prospects are not as bright as you would wish.
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But this is not how the real world works. This is not how learning works. This is not how great achievements are attained. It took me years to figure this out. I was one of those students who insisted on always attaining the highest grades in everything. I graduated first in my class in high school (while taking honors and Advanced Placement courses whenever they were offered) and second in college – with three majors. In high school especially, I sometimes found the grading criteria to be rather arbitrary and subjective, but I spent considerable time preparing my work and myself to meet them. While I did engage in prolific learning during my high-school years, the majority of that learning occurred outside the scope of my classes and was the result of self-study using books and the Internet. Unfortunately, my autonomous learning endeavors needed to be crammed into the precious little free time I had, because most of my time was occupied by attempting to conform my schoolwork to the demanding and often unforgiving expectations that needed to be met in order to earn the highest grades. I succeeded at that – but only through living by a regimen that would have been unsustainable in the long term: little sleep, little leisure, constant tension, and apprehension about the possibility of a single academic misstep. Yet now I realize that, whether I had succeeded or failed at the game of perfect grades, my post-academic achievements would have probably been unaffected.
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How does real learning occur? It is not an all-or-nothing game. It is not about trying some task once and advancing if you succeed, or being shamed and despondent if you do not. Real learning is an iterative process. By a multitude of repetitions and attempts – each aiming to master the subject or make progress on a goal – one gradually learns what works and what does not, what is true and what is false. In many areas of life, the first principles are not immediately apparent or even known by anybody. The solution to a problem in those areas, instead of emerging by a straightforward (if sometimes time-consuming) deductive process from those first principles, can only be arrived at by induction, trial and error, and periodic adjustment to changing circumstances. Failure is an expected part of learning how to approach these areas, and no learning would occur in them if every failure were punished with either material deprivation or social condemnation.
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Of course, not all failures are of the same sort. A failure to solve a math problem, while heavily penalized in school, is not at all detrimental in the real world. If you need to solve the problem, you just try, try again – as long as you recognize the difference between success and failure and have the free time and material comfort to make the attempts. On the other hand, a failure to yield to oncoming traffic when making a left turn could be irreversible and devastating. The key in approaching failure is to distinguish between safe failure and dangerous failure. A safe failure is one that allows numerous other iterations to get to the correct answer, behavior, or goal. A dangerous failure is one that closes doors, removes opportunities, and – worst of all – damages life. Learning occurs best when you can fail hundreds, even thousands, of times in rapid succession – at no harm or minimal harm to yourself and others. In such situations, failure is to be welcomed as a step along the way to success. On the other hand, if a failure can take away years of your life – either by shortening your life or wasting colossal amounts of time – then the very approach that might result in the failure should be avoided, unless there is no other way to achieve comparable goals. As a general principle, it is not the possibility of success or failure one should evaluate when choosing one’s pursuits, but rather the consequences of failure if it occurs.
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Many contemporary societal institutions, unfortunately, are structured in a manner hostile to iterative learning. They rather encourage “all-in” investment into one or a few lines of endeavor – with uncertain success and devastating material and emotional consequences of failure. These institutions do not give second chances, except at considerable cost, and sometimes do not even give first chances because of protectionist barriers to entry. Higher education especially is pervaded by this problem.
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At a cost of tens of thousands of dollars per year, college is an enormous bet. Many think that, by choosing the right major and the right courses of study within it, they could greatly increase their future earning potential. For some, this works out – though they are a diminishing fraction of college students. If a major turns out not to be remunerative, there may be some satisfaction from having learned the material, and this may be fine – as long as it is understood that this is a costly satisfaction indeed. Some will switch majors during their time in college, but this is often in itself an extremely expensive decision, as it prolongs the time over which one must pay tuition. For those who can afford either non-remunerative or serial college majors out of pocket, there is the opportunity cost of their time – but that is not the worst that can happen.
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The worst fate certainly befalls those who finance their college education through student debt. This was a fate I happily avoided. I graduated college without having undertaken a penny of debt – ever – largely as a result of merit scholarships (and my choice of an institution that gave merit scholarships – a rarity these days). Millions of my contemporaries, however, are not so fortunate. For years hereafter, they will bear a recurring financial burden that will restrict their opportunities and push them along certain often stressful and unsustainable paths in life.
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Student debt is the great disruptor of iterative learning. Such debt is assumed on the basis of the tremendously failure-prone expectation of a certain future monetary return capable of paying off the debt. Especially in post-2008 Western economies, this expectation is unfounded – no matter who one is or how knowledgeable, accomplished, or productive one might be. Well-paying jobs are hard to come by; well-paying jobs in one’s own field of study are even scarcer. The field narrows further when one considers that employment should not only be remunerative, but also accompanied by decent working conditions and compatible with a comfortable standard of living that reflects one’s values and goals.
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Money is ultimately a means to life, not an end for its own sake. To pursue work that requires constant privation in other areas of life is not optimal, to say the least – but debt leaves one with no choice. There is no escape from student debt. Bankruptcy cannot annul it. One must keep paying it, to avoid being overwhelmed by the accumulated interest. Paying it off takes years for most, decades for some. By the time it is paid off (if it is), a lot of youth, energy, and vitality are lost. It follows some to the grave. If one pays it off as fast as possible, then one might still enjoy a sliver of that precious time window between formal education and senescence – but the intense rush and effort needed to achieve this goal limits one’s options for experimenting with how to solve problems, engage in creative achievement, and explore diverse avenues for material gain.
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If you are in heavy debt, you take what income you can get, and you do not complain; you put all of your energy into one career path, one field, one narrow facet of existence – in the hope that the immediate returns are enough to get by and the long-term returns will be greater. If you wish to practice law or medicine, or obtain a PhD, your reliance on this mode of living and its hoped-for ultimate consequences is even greater. You may defer the payoff of the debt for a bit, but the ultimate burden will be even greater. Many lawyers do not start to have positive financial net worth until their thirties; many doctors do not reach this condition until their forties – and this is the reality for those who graduated before the financial crisis and its widespread unemployment fallout. The prospects of today’s young people are even dimmer, and perhaps the very expectation of long-term financial reward arising from educational debt (or any years-long expensive formal education) is no longer realistic. This mode of life is not only stressful and uncertain; it comes at the expense of family relationships, material comfort, leisure time, and experimentation with diverse income streams. Moreover, any serious illness, accident, or other life crisis can derail the expectation of a steady income and therefore render the debt a true destroyer of life. Failure is costly indeed on this conventional track of post-undergraduate formal schooling.
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It may be difficult for many to understand that the conventionally perceived pathway to success is in fact one that exposes a person to the most dangerous sorts of failure. The best way forward is one of sustainable iterative work – a way that offers incremental benefits in the present without relying on huge payoffs in the future, all the while allowing enough time and comfort to experiment with life-improving possibilities at one’s discretion. Diversification is the natural companion of iteration. The more you try, the more you experiment, the more you learn and the more you can apply in a variety of contexts.
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Having avoided the student-debt trap, I can personally attest to how liberating the experience of post-academic learning can be. Instead of pursuing graduate or professional school, I decided to take actuarial and other insurance-related examinations, where the cost of each exam is modest compared to a semester of college – and one can always try again if one fails. In the 3.5 years after graduating from college, I was able to obtain seven professional insurance designations, at a net profit to myself. I have ample time to try for more designations still. My employment offers me the opportunity to engage in creative work in a variety of capacities, and I focus on maximizing my rate of productivity on the job so as to achieve the benefits of iterative learning and avoid the stress of an accumulated workload. I could choose where I wanted to live, and had the resources to purchase a house with a sizable down payment. Other than a mortgage, which I am paying ahead of schedule, I have no debt of any sort. Even the mortgage makes me somewhat uncomfortable – hence my desire to pay it off as rapidly as possible – but every payment gets me closer to fully owning a large, tangible asset that I use every day. In the meantime, I already have a decent amount of time for leisure, exercise, independent study, intellectual activism, and family interactions.
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My life, no doubt, has its own challenges and stresses; anyone’s situation could be better, and I can certainly conceive of improvements for my own – but I have the discretionary time needed to plan for and pursue such improvements. Moreover, the way of iterative learning is not fully realizable in all aspects of today’s world. Comparatively, I have fewer vulnerabilities than debt-ridden post-undergraduate students of my age, but I am not immune to the ubiquitous stressors of contemporary life. We continue to be surrounded by dangers and tasks where it is truly necessary not to fail the first time. As technology advances and we come to life in a safer, healthier world, the sources for life-threatening failure will diminish, and the realm of beneficial trial-and-error failure will broaden. The key in the meantime is to keep the failure points in one’s own life to a minimum. Yes, automobile accidents, crime, and serious illnesses always have a non-zero probability of damaging one’s life – but even that probability can be diminished through vigilance, care, and technology. To avoid introducing vulnerability into one’s life, one should always live within one’s present means – not expectations of future income – and leave oneself with a margin of time and flexibility for the achievement of any goal, financial or not. Productivity, efficiency, and skill are all welcome assets, if they are used to prevent, rather than invite, stress, anxiety, and physical discomfort.
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Learning absolutely anything of interest and value is desirable, as long as the cost in time and money – including the opportunity cost – is known and can be absorbed using present resources. This principle applies to any kind of formal schooling – or to the purchase of cars, major articles of furniture, and electronic equipment. If you enjoy it, can afford it out of pocket, and can think of no better way to use your time and money – then by all means pursue it with a clear conscience. If you cannot afford it, or you need the money for something more important, then wait until you have the means, and find other ways to use and enjoy your time in the interim. With the Internet, it is possible to learn many skills and concepts at no monetary cost at all. It is also possible to pursue relatively low-cost professional designation programs in fields where sitting in a classroom is not a requirement for entry.
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Remember that success is attained through many iterations of a variety of endeavors. Try to make each iteration as inexpensive as possible in terms of time and money. Except in times of acute crisis where there are no other options, avoid all forms of debt – with the possible exception of a mortgage, since it is preferable to the alternative of renting and giving all of the rent away to another party. Do not put all of your time and energy into a single field, a single path, a single expectation. You are a multifaceted human being, and your job in life is to develop a functional approach to the totality of existence – not just one sub-specialty therein. Remember, above all, never to lose your individuality, favored way of living, and constructive relationships with others in the pursuit of any educational or career path. You should be the master of your work and learning – not the other way around.
Rejecting the Purveyors of Pull: The Lessons of “Atlas Shrugged: Part II” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Rejecting the Purveyors of Pull: The Lessons of “Atlas Shrugged: Part II” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
October 13, 2012
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Atlas Shrugged: Part II is a worthy successor to last year’s Part I, and I am hopeful for its commercial success so that John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow will be able to release a full trilogy and achieve the decades-long dream of bringing the entire story of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to the movie screen. The film is enjoyable and well-paced, and it highlights important lessons for the discerning viewer. The film’s release in the month preceding the US Presidential elections, however, may give some the wrong impression: that either of the two major parties can offer anything close to a Randian alternative to the status quo. Those viewers who are also thinkers, however, will see that the film’s logical implication is that both of these false “alternatives” – Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – should be rejected decisively.

While the cast has been replaced entirely, I find the acting to have been an improvement over Part I, with the actors portraying their respective characters with more believability and emotional engagement. Samantha Mathis, in the role of Dagny Taggart, showed clearly the distress of a competent woman who is ultimately unable to keep the world from falling apart. Esai Morales aptly portrayed Francisco d’Anconia’s passion for ideas and his charisma. Jason Beghe also performed well as Hank Rearden – the embattled man of integrity struggling to hold on to his business and creations to the last.

The film emphasizes strongly the distinction between earned success – success through merit and creation – and “success” gained by means of pull. The scene in which two trains collide in the Taggart Tunnel is particularly illustrative in this respect. Kip Chalmers, the politician on his way to a pro-nationalization stump speech, attempts to get the train moving through angry phone calls to “the right people,” thinking that all will be well if he just pulls the proper strings. But the laws of reality – of physics, chemistry, and economics – are unyielding to the mere say-so of the powerful, and the mystique of pull collapses on top of the passengers.

As the world falls apart, the film depicts protesters demanding their “fair share,” holding up signs reminiscent of the “Occupy” movement of 2011 – “We are the 99.98%” is a clear allusion. Yet once the draconian Directive 10-289 is implemented, the protests turn in the other direction, away from the freedom-stifling, creativity-crushing regimentation. Perhaps the protesters are not the same people as those who called for their “fair share”  – but the film suggests that the people should be careful about the policies they ask for at the ballot box, lest they be sorely disappointed upon getting them. This caution should apply especially to those who think that Barack Obama’s administration parallels the falling-apart of the world in Atlas Shrugged – and that Mitt Romney’s election would somehow “save” America. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If there is any character in Atlas Shrugged who most resembles Mitt Romney, it is not John Galt. Rather, it is James Taggart – the businessman of pull – the sleek charlatan who will take any position, support any policy, speak any lines in order to advance his influence and power. Patrick Fabian conveyed the essence of James Taggart well – a man who succeeds based on image and not on substance, a man who has a certain polished charisma and an ability to pull the strings of politics – for a while. James Taggart is the essence of the corporatist businessman, a creature who thrives on special political privileges and barriers to entry placed in front of more capable competitors. He can buy elections and political offices – and he can, for a while, delude people by creating a magic pseudo-reality with his words. But words cannot suspend the laws of logic or economics. Ultimately the forces of intellectual and moral decay unleashed by corporatist maneuvering inexorably push the world into a condition that even the purveyors of pull would have preferred to avoid. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, the consequences of economic interventionism are often undesirable even from the standpoint of those who advocated the interventions in the first place. James Taggart is ultimately pushed into accepting Directive 10-289, though his initial plans were much more modest – mostly, a desire to hang onto leadership in the railroad business despite his obvious lack of qualifications for the position. Mitt Romney, by advocating James Taggart’s exact sort of crony corporatism, may well usher in a similar overarching totalitarianism – not because he supports it now (in the sense that Mitt Romney can be said to support anything), but because totalitarianism will be the logical outcome of his policies.

Because, in some respects, Ayn Rand wrote during a gentler time with respect to civil liberties, and the film endeavors to consistently reflect Rand’s emphasis on economic regimentation, there is little focus on the kinds of draconian civil-liberties violations that Americans face today. The real-world version of Directive 10-289 is not a single innovation-stopping decree, but an agglomeration of routine humiliations and outright exercises of violence. The groping and virtual strip-searching by the Transportation Security Administration, the War on Drugs and its accompanying no-knock raids, the paranoid surveillance apparatus of large-scale wiretaps and data interception, and the looming threat of controls over the Internet and indefinite detention without charge – these perils are as damaging as an overarching economic central plan, and they are with us today. While not even the most socialistic or fascistic politicians today would issue a ban on all new technology or a comprehensive freeze of prices and wages, they certainly can and will try to humiliate and physically threaten millions of completely peaceful, innocent Americans who try to innovate and earn an honest living. Obama’s administration has engaged in this sort of mass demoralization ever since the foiled “underwear” bomb plot during Christmas 2009 – but Romney would do more of the same, and perhaps worse. Unlike Obama, who must contend with the pro-civil-liberties wing of his constituency, Romney’s attempts to violate personal freedoms will only be cheered on by the militaristic, jingoistic, security-obsessed faction that is increasingly coming to control the discourse of the Republican Party. There can be no hope for freedom, or for the dignity of an ordinary traveler, employee, or thinker, if Romney is elected.

I encourage the viewers of the film to seriously consider the question, “Who is John Galt?” He is not a Republican. If any man comes close, it is Gary Johnson, a principled libertarian who has shown in practice (not just in rhetoric) his ability and willingness to cut wasteful interventions, balance budgets, and protect civil liberties during two terms as Governor of New Mexico. He staunchly champions personal freedoms, tax reduction, foreign-policy non-interventionism, and a sound currency free of the Federal Reserve system. Gary Johnson was, in fact, a businessman of the Randian ethos – who started as a door-to-door handyman and grew from scratch an enterprise with revenues of $38 million.  And, on top of it all, he is a triathlete and ultramarathon runner who climbed Mount Everest in 2003 – clearly demonstrating a degree of ambition, drive, and pride in achievement worthy of a hero of Atlas Shrugged.

Ayn Rand never meant the strike in Atlas Shrugged to be an actual recommendation for how to address the world’s problems. Rather, the strike was an illustration of what would happen if the world was deprived of its best and brightest – the creators and innovators who, despite all obstacles, pursue the path of merit and achievement rather than pull and artificial privilege. Today, it is necessary for each of us to work to keep the motor of the world going by not allowing the purveyors of pull to gain any additional ground. Voting for Mitt Romney will do just the opposite – as Atlas Shrugged: Part II artfully suggests to the discerning viewer.

I’ve Got Olympic Fever – and the Only Cure is More Nationalism! – Article by Bradley Doucet

I’ve Got Olympic Fever – and the Only Cure is More Nationalism! – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
August 17, 2012
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Once again, the Olympics have come and gone. Some of the best athletes from around the world competed to see who could run, swim, row, dive, jump, kick, shoot, spike, spin, flip, and twist faster or higher or more artfully than their opponents. And that part of it was great. Well, some of it was dull as dirt, but some of it was genuinely thrilling and even beautiful.The part of it that I don’t get is where I’m supposed to cheer for the guys and gals who are “representing” Canada. I’m supposed to feel disappointed when these fine young men and women fail to live up to expectations, and I’m supposed to be happy, even proud, when they make it to the podium. And people from other nations are supposed to feel these emotions for the athletes “representing” them. Well, not only do I not feel anything special for Canadian athletes, but I would go so far as to say that such seemingly innocuous nationalistic sentiments are a big part of what’s wrong with the world.Nationalism by Any Other Name

For my money, foul-mouthed stand-up comedian Doug Stanhope put it best: “Nationalism does nothing but teach you how to hate people that you never met, and all of a sudden you take pride in accomplishments you had no part in whatsoever…” Now granted, the Olympics are not so big on the hate. But why should I, simply because I’m Canadian, take pride in the fact that Canada hauled in 18 medals? And should I feel a little less proud because only one of them was a gold? Of course, strictly speaking, “Canada” did not win 18 medals. Rather, Canadian athletes won 18 medals. But why should “we” care one way or the other, much less feel vicarious pride? We didn’t build that.

To be clear, I’m not against sporting events per se. I actually like sports, both playing them and watching them. I like watching basketball and American football, and I even root for certain teams (the Celtics and the Patriots). I enjoy watching my fellow human beings perform incredible feats of strength and agility, and struggle to summon extra energy or settle frazzled nerves. Watching tennis star Na Li rally from a 1-5 deficit in the deciding third set of her semi-finals match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal this weekend to win six straight games and take it 7-5 was both exciting and inspiring. I like the way Na Li plays—I refuse on principle to place her family name first, regardless of what is done in her nation—and she’s got a pretty quick wit, too, judging from the times I’ve heard her speak. Why should I give a damn what her nationality is?

I did watch some Olympic tennis, including the record-breaking third set of the match between Milos Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga that took 48 service games to decide. I was impressed that Raonic could give Tsonga such a run for his money, but the fact that we are countrymen was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, I was happy that Tsonga finally won the match. I enjoy his style of play, and he’s actually my favourite player on the men’s tour at the moment. Different nationality, different mother tongue, different skin colour? I literally could not care less.

The Hosts with the Most

What about the host country? In an article in the Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders wrote of the “mood of national euphoria” in England following the closing ceremonies, and of the “ineffable value of having organized a very large, very happy event with virtually no flaws, and having looked very good before the world—something that Britain once took for granted, and is likely to enjoy remembering for some time.” The implication is that Britain should feel proud of the great job it did hosting the Games.

But again, did “Britain” host the Games? Did “the British people” host the Games? No. Some small subset of specific individuals organized the event, for better or for worse. Why would every Brit deserve credit for that? Now, British taxpayers did foot the bill, whether they wanted to or not. And what a bill it was, totalling some $14.5 billion. (You can forget about any economic stimulus from hosting the Games, by the way. As Saunders tells it, the prospect of daily Olympic crowds of 100,000 kept at least 300,000 non-Olympic tourists away.)

Similarly, as a Canadian taxpayer, I financed some tiny fraction of the training of the Canadian athletes participating at these Games, who were subsidized to the tune of $96 million over the last four years. (For those of you keeping track at home, that’s five million and change per Canadian medal.) The thing is, paying taxes is not really something a person does; it’s something that is done to a person. I cannot therefore reasonably feel proud of what is done with those dollars once they are taken out of my account against my will, and neither should the British taxpayer.

For Love of Country

On a trip to Ottawa a few years ago, I saw a bumper sticker that captured my feelings about Canada: “I love my country, but I’m afraid of my government.” Canada is a fine place with many fine people who continue to enjoy the echoes of a strong classical liberal tradition. But those “representing” us (there’s that word again) in the halls of power are not generally speaking the finest of those fine people.

For one thing, they all seem to be nationalists of one stripe or another. I suppose it wasn’t surprising to see Pauline Marois, leader of the separatist Parti Québécois, celebrate the fact that Canada’s first four medals were won by Quebecers. Rather more disappointing was how all three major provincial party leaders were competing to oppose the purchase of homegrown Rona by US rival Lowe’s. The race for gold in the “economic nationalism” event was too close to call.

Someone is surely going to argue that the Olympics are all about the nations of the world coming together in friendship. Well first of all, at the risk of beating a dead dressage horse, “nations” cannot be friends. Only people can be friends, and some of the Olympians probably made some new connections. But do the Olympics help people from different parts of the world adopt friendlier attitudes toward one another? An American basketball team packed with NBA superstars rolling roughshod over every other team tells a different tale, as does the rash of below-the-belt punching in the quest for basketball gold. And how about those bad calls against the Canadian women’s soccer team, denying them a chance to play for gold? That really promotes friendly international relations.

One parting shot: I’ll take the human achievement of the Mars landing over the nationalistic achievements of the Olympics any day. And although again, the taxpayer funds used to pay for it rub me the wrong way, at $2.5 billion, the price tag was roughly 1/6 as large as the Olympic tab.

Some kind of reverence for imaginary lines on a map seems to be deeply ingrained in most people, but to me, honestly, winning a medal “for your country” is only slightly less creepy than winning one for your Dear Leader. I prefer the humanist sentiment of elation of one Western writer (I’ve tried in vain to relocate his name) who, upon seeing the Great Wall of China for the first time, exclaimed, “My people built that.” Human beings can do great things, which should be a source of encouragement and inspiration for us all, regardless of the colours of our passports.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell – Article by Edward W. Younkins

Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell – Article by Edward W. Younkins

The New Renaissance Hat
Edward W. Younkins
June 3, 2012
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By integrating features found in the writings of Aristotle, Austrian economists, Ayn Rand, and a number of contemporary thinkers, we have the potential to develop a powerful, reality-based argument for a free society in which individuals have the opportunity to flourish and to be happy. Modern contributors to this approach include Tibor R. Machan, Douglas B. Rasmussen, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Frederick D. Miller, Roderick T. Long, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, George Reisman, Eric Mack, Neera K. Badhwar, Lester H. Hunt, Geoffrey Allan Plauché, among many others.

At the big-picture level, it can be argued that Aristotelian and neo-Aristotelian theories of morality and human flourishing can be compatible with Objectivist teachings regarding the nature of reality and man’s distinguishing characteristics of reason and free will and with Austrian ideas with respect to value theory, decision making, action, and social cooperation. It may be possible to construct an integrated conceptual framework that coordinates the ideas of Aristotle, the Austrian economists, Ayn Rand, and a number of current philosophers, economists, political scientists, positive psychologists, and others.

My inquiry in my book, Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, does not extend beyond a systematic level that relies heavily on logic and common sense. My purpose has been to outline the essentials of a worldview leaving it to philosophers and economists to fill in the details and to evaluate, critique, revise, refine, and extend my systematic understanding. What follows here is a brief summary of my attempt to formulate ideas and to relate them logically to other ideas and to the facts of reality. Although a person’s ideas are derived from reality and are about reality, there are differences between one’s ideas and the identity of the things that we can know. The rules of logic are determined by the facts of reality. In a sense, logic is both epistemological and ontological.

A proper philosophy must appeal to the objective nature of human beings and other entities in the world. There is a world of objective reality that exists and that has a determinate nature that is intelligible. Reality will not yield to permit a person’s subjective desires. Reality establishes the conditions for objectivity. It follows that realism is a necessary, instrumental means for a person’s success in the world. To be morality efficacious, a person must discern and use proper means to attain his truly valuable ends.

There is a human nature and it is man’s nature to be individual, volitionally conscious, rational, and purposive. Because each individual has a specific identity as a human being, we can say that there are particular things and actions that are appropriate to him and for him. Individuality is essential to one’s nature. Possessing reason and free will, each individual has the capacity and responsibility to choose to try to actualize his potential for being a flourishing, individual human being. Each person is a metaphysically unique self who is responsible for discerning what is good for himself. A person discovers his individual strengths and virtues through a process of moral development. A particular man’s own life is his purpose or goal. One’s aspirations are the aspirations in the only life he has to live. One’s entire life can be viewed as a project or overall goal which is subject to continual evaluation.

The goal or function of an individual human being is to perfect himself by fulfilling the potentialities that make him who he is. One’s flourishing is teleological consisting in fulfillment of his unique set of potentialities to be a mature human being. Each person has an innate, unchosen potentiality for his mature state along with the obligation to attempt to actualize that potentiality. Each person is responsible to discern and to live according to his daimon (i.e., true self) which includes his aptitudes, talents, and so on. This involves a process of progressive development, unfolding, or actualization in which a man attains goals that are in some way inherent in his nature as an individual human being. What constitutes a person’s daimon at a given point in time is a function of his endowments, circumstances, latent powers, interests, talents, and his history of choices, actions, and accomplishments. We could say that the fulfillment of one’s daimon is not static or fixed. An individual uses his practical rationality to assess himself and to work on his life in accordance with the objective standard of his flourishing as a singular human person. He can increase his generative potential to attain his own flourishing. A person is able to critique what he has done in the past and can change what he does with respect to the future development of his potentialities. Possessing free will, a man can adjust his actions in response to feedback that he has received.

Morality is an essential functional component of one’s existence as an individual human being. Moral knowledge is possible and can be derived from the facts of reality including human nature. Possessing rationality and free will, a person needs a proper moral code to aid him in making objective decisions and in acting on those decisions in his efforts to attain his true self-interest. Morality and self-interest are inextricably interrelated. Morality is concerned with rationally determining what best contributes to a person’s own flourishing and happiness.

Flourishing is a successful state of life, and happiness is a positive state of consciousness that flows from, or accompanies, a flourishing life. The legitimate function of every human person is live capably, excellently, and happily. This involves an ethic of aspiration toward one’s objective well-being that is actively attained and maintained. A person should aspire to what is best for him taking into account his given potentialities, abilities, and interests. Limits for self-fulfillment are set by reality including the type of being that we are and our individual characteristics.

Rationality is the foundational means to the end of human flourishing. Rationality is necessary to effect the appropriate means to a person’s ends and to integrate them. To be rational, a man must be committed to reality, truth, and logic. Not solely instrumental with respect to a person’s flourishing, rationality can also be viewed as partially constitutive of his flourishing. Rational introspection by a specific individual can enable him to determine the type of life that he should be leading.

Practical wisdom, an aspect of rationality, involves the ability to discern the relevant and important aspects of one’s circumstances in order to make the most proper response to them. The use of practical wisdom (or prudence) can only take place through self-direction or human agency. An individual requires practical wisdom to contend with the specifics, contingencies, and circumstances of one’s life. Practical wisdom is needed to guide oneself regarding the progressive fulfillment of his own potential to flourish. A prerequisite for one’s flourishing is self-direction or autonomy. Human flourishing requires self-direction and practical wisdom.

Natural rights are based on the common attributes of human beings and, therefore, apply universally to all people and to all actions. A metanormative system of negative rights that provide a context of self-directedness can be derived from a proper conception of human nature. Such a system of rights allows for value pluralism and for a variety of approaches to living one’s life. A conception of negative rights emphasizes where one individual’s life begins and another individual’s life ends. A political and legal order that protects natural rights is a necessary precondition for individual self-direction and for the possibility that human flourishing can take place in a social context. Protected self-directedness is necessary for social cooperation, specialization and trade, freely-chosen productive work, private property, free markets, voluntary contracts, and so on.

There is an important interrelationship and complementarily between the ideas of natural rights and human flourishing which together comprise a two-level ethics. At a metanormative level, rights protect people’s liberty to pursue (or not to pursue) their own good. They simply regulate the conditions under which moral conduct may (or may not) occur. In turn, what is good for the life of each individual person is found in the realm of personal virtue, morality, and flourishing. The ideas of natural rights and human flourishing describe different but related sides of what it means to be a human being. Together they provide a rational ethical framework.

The only enforceable limits on one’s actions are other people’s rights. We must recognize other individuals as purposive beings with ends of their own choosing. It would be contradictory to advocate my own rights and not to recognize the rights of other individuals. If a person does not acknowledge the rights of others, then he cannot declare that his own rights are valid. Each individual is thus permitted and limited in both the private and social spheres with respect to the types of actions in which he can engage.

People are born with physical, philosophical, and psychological needs specific to them as individual human beings. Human beings have needs embedded in their nature. We could say that value derives only to the extent that something satisfies an objective human need. The term value implies the personal importance or significance of an activity or object. Self-interest refers to the objective needs of a flourishing human life. Values promote and constitute one’s life and happiness. They have a metaphysical foundation in the nature of reality. There is an inextricable connection between values and natural facts. A value relationship exists due to the nature of a living beings and the nature of other existents in the world. Something in the world can be a value to a specific man even though he does not view it as valuable or even if he is not aware of its existence.

A flourishing life, including the happiness that accompanies it, is a person’s ultimate value. Everything else in life is aspired to because of this chief value. All of a man’s other values are instrumental and/or constitutive of the ultimate value. Means that serve the end of a flourishing life can be part of that end. Constitutive values such as a productive career, friendships, and so on are not simply means to a flourishing life but are also vital parts of such a life.

In order to flourish and to be happy, each man must select values, place them in a hierarchy, and strive to attain them. A person must experience many aspects of reality in order to discover values that are proper for him and that interest and inspire him. This active learning process highlights the exploratory nature of individual human interests and values. A person decides to live a particular type of life because he sees the value of it. He should select and pursue specific meaningful values that are metaphysically appropriate for him. He needs to identify the positive relationships in which things exist in relationship to his life. The meaning of particular projects in a person’s life is a function of his individuality.

There are differences among needs, values, and goals. Whereas needs are inborn, values are acquired. Values prioritize needs. People require a value hierarchy in order to be able to make choices. Goals are values applied to particular circumstances. Goals achieve values and values fulfill needs. A person’s goals and values should be consistent with his needs. Values are translated into reality through the means of goals. Value attainment requires setting and pursuing goals. Needs lead to values, values lead to goals, and goals lead to action.

Human beings are goal-directed. Goals are specific forms of values. Values provide a strategic underpinning for a person’s goal-setting activities. They supply meaning and purpose to a person’s goals. We could say that goals depict values as related to particular states of affairs. Because not all goals are equally valid, a person needs to examine the values underlying his goals. It is important to realize that goals are not isolated from one another. A person should strive to create a rational system of goals aimed at his flourishing and happiness.

Human flourishing is related to a number of general goods and virtues that provide structure but not specific direction or content with respect to living one’s life. Because there is a wide diversity of human beings, it follows that a flourishing life is not universal. Generic goods such as knowledge, health, and friendships need to be integrated in various measures and the virtues need to be applied in specific circumstances.

Each person needs to consider a variety of values, goods, and virtues in order to determine the relationship among them that will best achieve his flourishing as an individual human being. This requires rational insight into the particular and the contingent. Reason is the basic means used by human beings to create the values necessary for life and to interrelate and integrate goods and virtues into their lives. Virtues may be viewed as a set of fundamental principles that a rational person uses to guide the long-term course of his life.

Virtues can be viewed as principles of action which promote the flourishing of an individual who, by following them, engages in consistent actions that are in alignment with practical rationality. Virtuous actions enable a person to gain (and keep) the values he pursues. The virtues are required for one’s practical efficacy and happiness. Of course, virtue, by itself, is not enough to guarantee practical efficacy. A person also needs to have the relevant skills, resources, and so on. The fundamental virtue is rationality and the other virtues are particular expressions of that basic virtue. The virtues are both instrumental to, and a constitutive part of, an agent’s flourishing. They are valuable, not merely as means to flourishing, but also as partial realizations of it. Virtuous action begins with the ability to discern the aspects of a situation that are the most relevant and that fit the circumstances at hand. A man needs to possess the ability to decide which virtues are required in a particular situation and the optimal way of applying them. Virtuous actions tend to foster further virtuous actions. Applying the virtues is heavily dependent upon the context of a situation. People tend to take pleasure in virtuous actions—affect is related closely to virtue especially when one’s emotions are properly aligned with his rationality.

Ayn Rand makes a powerful case that the rational pursuit of one’s flourishing requires the consistent practice of seven essential virtues—rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride. She saw rationality as the master virtue and the other six virtues as derivative from the primary virtue. Some scholars have pointed out that Rand did not specifically discuss the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom (i.e., prudence). It is likely that she considered practical wisdom as part of rationality. Others have suggested that her version of virtue ethics might be improved by including positive qualities such as benevolence, kindness, generosity, charity, tolerance, and so on in her prescription for moral perfection.

Emotions are an important part of one’s life experience and are relevant to his moral character. A case can be made that many emotions are the products of a person’s judgments of value as integrated by his subconscious mind. Such emotions stem from a person’s values and estimates which, in turn, depend upon his knowledge. They are about personally meaningful values and circumstances. These emotions are directed by one’s chosen values. It follows that a change in one’s values can bring about a change in his emotions. Emotions can encourage or discourage goal-directed actions. Correctly programmed positive emotions can be indicators that we have located objective values. Such emotions both signal and promote a person’s optimal functioning and flourishing. Justified positive emotions are fundamental conditions of human existence. We could say that emotional and psychological well-being is a crucial part of human flourishing.

Happiness occurs to the extent that one leads a flourishing life. We could say that happiness is an emergent effect of living a good life. Happiness has both cognitive and affective dimensions and depends upon the degree to which a person responds realistically, morally, and efficaciously to his life circumstances. Successful people tend to be happy people who continue to intentionally seek new, not-yet-attained goals. There are various degrees of personal growth, development, and happiness. A person can be happy and still strive to be even happier. Happiness is an issue of living a particular type of life—it is not just a case of having positive feelings. However, happiness is related to emotion-laden experiences such as flow and self-esteem.

A person is apt to be in a psychological state of flow when he is engaged in meaningful, self-controlled, and goal-related activities. Flow involves focused immersion in an activity, lack of self-consciousness, and the merging of awareness and action. A man is in the flow state when he is vitally engaged in enjoyable activities that offer him scope.

Self-esteem refers to a person’s legitimate attitude of self-affirmation. Self-esteem is connected to a sense of agency and control of one’s environment. A person with self-esteem tends to be competent, optimistic, and virtuous, and to have self-respect. A person who does not practice the virtues (such as rationality, honesty, justice, and so on) is not likely to possess self-esteem. Virtuous action leads to self-respect and self-esteem.

People should take virtuous actions in alignment with their objective values. A person must use his practical wisdom to examine and judge the context of a situation before freely choosing to exercise virtuous action. Deliberation itself is an action aimed at an end. The final end of the actions of a human being is his own flourishing life. People are capable of taking self-directed, deliberate, reasoned, and planned actions directed by a notion of an ultimate end. Of course, they can choose to act and live in a variety of ways that are not conducive to a flourishing life.

Austrian Economics and Objectivism agree on the significance of the ideas of human action and values. The Austrians explain that a person acts when he prefers the way he thinks things will be if he acts compared to the way he thinks things will be if he fails to act. Austrian Economics is descriptive and deals with the logical analysis of the ability of selected actions (i.e., means) to achieve chosen ends. Whether or not these ends are truly objectively valuable is not the concern of the praxeological economist when he is acting in his capacity as an economist. There is another realm of values that views value in terms of objective values and correct preferences and actions. Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is concerned with this other sphere and thus prescribes what human beings ought to value and act to attain.

Austrian economists contend that values are subjective and Objectivists maintain that values are objective. These claims can be seen as compatible because they are not claims about the same phenomena. These two senses of value are complementary and compatible. The Austrians view actions from the perspective of a neutral examiner of the actions and Objectivists suggest values and actions for an acting human being as a moral agent himself. The Austrian economist does not force his own value judgments on the personal values and actions of the human beings that he is studying. Operating from a different perspective, Objectivists maintain that there are objective values that stem from a man’s relationship to other existents in the world. For the Objectivist, the purpose of ethics is to live a flourishing and happy life by recognizing and responding to the significance of human action.

It is possible for these two schools of thought to be combined into an integrated framework. At a descriptive level, the Austrian idea of demonstrated preference agrees with Ayn Rand’s account of value as something that a person acts to gain and/or keep. Of course, Rand moves from an initial descriptive notion of value to a normative perspective on value that includes the idea that a legitimate or objective value serves one’s life. The second deeper level view of value provides an objective standard to evaluate the use of one’s free will.

Austrian praxeological economics (i.e., the study of human action) has been used to make a value-free case for liberty. This economic science deals with abstract principles and general rules that must be applied if a society is to have optimal production and economic well-being. Misesian praxeology consists of a body of logically deduced, inexorable laws of economics beginning with the axiom that each person acts purposefully.

Although Misesian economists hold that values are subjective and Objectivists argue that values are objective, these claims are not incompatible because they are not really claims about the same things—they exist at different levels or spheres of analysis. The value-subjectivity of the Austrians complements the Randian sense of objectivity. The level of objective values dealing with personal flourishing transcends the level of subjective value preferences.

The value-freedom (or value-neutrality) and value-subjectivity of the Austrians have a different function or purpose than does Objectivism’s emphasis on objective values. On the one hand, the Austrian emphasis is on the value-neutrality of the economist as a scientific observer of a person acting to attain his “subjective” (i.e., personally-estimated) values. On the other hand, the philosophy of Objectivism is concerned with values for an acting individual moral agent himself.

Austrian Economics is an excellent way of looking at methodological economics with respect to the appraisal of means but not of ends. Misesian praxeology therefore must be augmented. Its value-free economics is not sufficient to establish a total case for liberty. A systematic, reality-based ethical system must be discovered to firmly establish the argument for individual liberty. Natural law provides the groundwork for such a theory and both Objectivism and the Aristotelian idea of human flourishing are based on natural-law ideas.

An ethical system must be developed and defended in order to establish the case for a free society. An Aristotelian ethics of naturalism states that moral matters are matters of fact and that morally good conduct is that which enables the individual agent to make the best possible progress toward achieving his self-perfection and happiness. According to Rand, happiness relates to a person’s success as a unique, rational human being possessing free will. We have free choice and the capacity to initiate our own conduct that enhances or hinders our flourishing as human beings.

A human being’s flourishing requires the rational use of his individual human potentialities, including his talents, abilities, and virtues in the pursuit of his freely and rationally chosen values and goals. An action is considered to be proper if it leads to the flourishing of the person performing the action. A person’s flourishing leads to his happiness. Each person is responsible for voluntarily choosing, creating, and entering relationships in civil society that contribute toward his flourishing.

Long ago, Aristotle observed that social life and social cooperation in a community are essential conditions for one’s flourishing. Today, it is generally held that a person’s social networks have strong effects on a person’s well-being. Mediating institutions such as charitable societies, fraternal organizations, churches, clubs, and so on, provide individuals and communities with valuable interaction networks. Most people hold memberships in a number of value-providing associations. It follows that civil society is important to the pursuit and attainment of our individual ends.

Unlike the state, which is based on coercion, civil society is based on voluntary participation. Civil society consists of natural and voluntary associations such as families, private businesses, unions, churches, private schools, clubs, charities, etc. Civil society, a spontaneous order, consists of a network of associations built on the freedom of the individual to associate or not to associate. The voluntary communities and associations of civil society are valuable because human beings need to associate with others in order to flourish and achieve happiness.

One’s personal flourishing requires a life with other people. Sociality is essential to a man’s attempt to live well. Benefaction (i.e., charity) can be viewed as an expression and specific manifestation of one’s capacity for social cooperation.

The interpersonal realm is integral to a well-lived life. We love our friends because we appreciate their potential to advance our well-being. Friendship and love have an egoistic basis in a person’s love for, and pride in, himself. The well-being of a person who is a value to an individual increases the individual’s own ability to flourish and to be happy. The fundamental reason for performing other-regarding actions is to enhance one’s own well-being. Other people’s interests can be viewed as contributive to, or interrelated with, one’s own interests as evidenced in the case of production and free trade. It can be said that a person’s authentic self-interest cannot conflict with the self-interests of other people.

Dr. Edward W. Younkins is Professor of Accountancy at Wheeling Jesuit University. He is the author of Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise [Lexington Books, 2002], Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond [Lexington Books, 2005] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.), and Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism [Rowman & Littlefield Pub Incorporated, 2011] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.). Many of Dr. Younkins’s essays can be found online at his web page at www.quebecoislibre.org. You can contact Dr. Younkins at younkins@wju.edu.

Objectivist Virtue Ethics in Business – Article by Edward W. Younkins

Objectivist Virtue Ethics in Business – Article by Edward W. Younkins

The New Renaissance Hat
Edward W. Younkins
April 24, 2012
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Virtuous actions can lead to the achievement of values. When one’s context is reduced to business, virtue theory contends that pursuing virtuous principles, strategies, and actions can result in firms realizing their values including their mission, purpose, profit potential, and other goals. Virtuous employees tend to carry out their roles in a competent manner that is congruent with the firm’s goals. Virtues are instrumental allowing a person to act to gain values. When business people conform to the Objectivist virtues, they increase the likelihood of achieving their values and goals. Virtue ethics stresses the importance of each individual employee being able to make contributions of value. Valid virtue concepts are required to describe what it means to be an excellent director, leader, manager, or employee. To be successful, a business needs to espouse a set of virtues that are reality-based, non-contradictory, integrated, and comprehensive.

Virtue theory holds that ethics is an inherent part of business and that it is necessary to integrate moral theory into management theory and practice. The role of the virtues in business is to direct and motivate behavior toward the success of the business. Strategic management and business ethics converge because each area has an explicit interest in the nature and goals of business. In business, the virtues facilitate successful management and cooperation and enable a company to attain its goals. The Randian virtues can provide a moral framework and integrating strategy to guide a business in achieving its goals.[1]

The virtues connect ethics to business positively and provide a sound logical foundation for business ethics. Given the laws of nature and of human nature, there exists a set of virtues that fit reality and that are most likely to lead to success and happiness in business. Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics specifically recognizes production as the central human value. In addition, the personal virtues that she advocated have a direct bearing on work: rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride. These virtues can be used as guiding forces in a business career and in the management of a business. They define the excellent manager (or other employee) and provide the principles that a corporation should adopt with respect to investors, employees, customers, vendors, and others.

A case can be made that virtue ethics has priority over, and perhaps grounds, other competing ethical approaches to business. In most cases being virtuous will be sufficient for leading a morally decent life in the world of business. Virtue theory is more attractive, positive, unified, comprehensive, and practical than are traditional approaches to business ethics because it is concerned with the type of person that one should be rather than with rules that tell people how they ought to act. Virtue theory is concerned with the cultivation of character and provides a framework through which a person can lead a flourishing and happy life. Moral growth comes from choice rather than from conformity to rules or codes.

Traditional approaches to business ethics (i.e., deontology, consequentialism and codes of conduct) are viewed as formulaic, prescriptive, constraining forces that legislate the form of moral deliberation. Conventional approaches focus on a set of prohibitive principles or rules that tell people how they ought to act. Kantian and utilitarian act-oriented approaches concentrate only on the development of principles while neglecting the cultivation of an individual’s character. Neither deontic nor consequentialist judgments are apt to supply sufficient action guidance for resolving particular dilemmas. Virtue ethics should be viewed as a precondition of, and complement to, moral reasoning based on a deontological focus on one’s obligation to act and on a teleological focus on the consequences of an action. Virtue ethics is more fundamental, and in many cases, preempts the consideration and application of deontic and utilitarian rules. An emphasis on virtuous behavior is motivational because it depends upon a person’s ability to aspire to excellence through virtuous acts. Virtue ethics emphasizes the process of individual moral character development. Above all, virtue ethics is concerned with the flourishing and happiness of the human agent (Mintz 1996, 537-38; Arjoon 2000, 159-78; Whetstone 2001, 101-14).

Virtue theory provides a context in which strategies, plans, tactics, policies, and procedures can be developed to attain a business’s stated mission and other relevant values. Virtues can play a causal role in achieving economic success. Virtues-driven firms tend to maximize profits. However, acting virtuously does not always result in wealth creation because other factors can come into play. Despite such an occurrence, virtuous employees still can experience the internal rewards of pride, self-esteem, and the joy of knowing that they did their jobs well.

The achievement of a firm’s telos, mission, purpose, ultimate end, or ultimate value requires virtuous action on the part of the company’s employees. The ultimate value for a business is financial value. The purpose of a business is to maximize owner value over the long-term by selling goods and/or services. Most corporation mission statements explain this purpose explicitly, or at least implicitly. It is necessary to recognize a business’s distinctive purpose when organizing and integrating human effort into purposeful long-term activities. Purposeful behavior requires a single overarching valued objective function. In a corporation market price per share can be a surrogate for owner value. More specifically, the ultimate purpose of maximizing total long-term market value can provide a criterion for management decisions and choices among competing alternatives, Virtues are instrumental and support a firm’s overall telos.

To accomplish a corporation’s ultimate purpose requires the attainment of a number of goals within a business. It is possible look upon both a firm’s ultimate purpose and its goals as values that need to be achieved. Although technically a value is an object of goal-directed action, in general parlance, the terms, goals and values, are often used interchangeably. For our purposes, we can consider both the ultimate end of a corporation (i.e., the long-term maximization of firm value) and the goals that can lead to the ultimate end to be values.

Goals (sometimes referred to as objectives) are specific quantitative targets that a business needs to meet in a manner consistent with ethical principles in order to accomplish its purpose. Typical goal areas in a business include: profitability, sales, sales growth, return on investment (ROI), profit margin, cash flow, market share (or position), customer loyalty, productivity, efficiency, cost control, research and development, product leadership, employee development, employee attitudes, employee loyalty, expansion or contraction of product and service lines, reducing business risks, and so on. Each and every goal should be analyzed to determine the potential impact on firm value and whether or not they are contributing to the attainment of the firm’s target valuation. Goals whose achievement does not contribute to increasing shareholder value should be eliminated.

To succeed a business must have a superior vision and purpose to work toward and the strategic focus and direction of effort to achieve them. The Objectivist virtues can enable people to direct their actions toward the attainment of a company’s goals and values including the maximization of owner value. Virtuous actions can lead to better customer service, gains in productivity and efficiency, higher employee retention rates, reduction in employee absenteeism, improvement in employee morale, better communications both internally and externally, honest and reliable internal and external financial reporting, the flexibility necessary to adapt to market conditions, increased innovation and the more frequent and more timely launching of new products and services, higher sales and profits, sustainable competitive advantages, greater flourishing and happiness of the firm’s employees, and so on.

Virtuous behavior is required at all levels of a company from employees who realize that business is a natural and moral means by which they can satisfy their needs and attain their actualization as individual human persons. Virtuous employees are energetic, productive workers who: (1) focus on reality; (2) think objectively, rationally, and logically in applying relevant knowledge; (3) ask clear, pertinent, insightful questions and listen carefully; (4) search for facts in their total context before judging and evaluating business situations; (5) use time efficiently and effectively; (6) organize their lives and work toward accomplishing worthwhile endeavors; and (7) set value-producing goals and strive to accomplish them.

A virtuous employee begins by understanding what the facts are and does not evade the distinction between the real and the unreal. Evasion detaches a person from reality. Virtue begins with the effort to confront reality as it is. Given that there is no standardized algorithm for making business decisions, an employee needs to use his reason to make rational, logical decisions based on the facts of reality. One needs to apply conscious, prudent, rational judgments and choices in various business contexts in order to identify, execute, and implement profitable and ethical internal and external exchange transactions.

Much of morality in business falls under the rubric of honesty. Honesty means being in accord with reality. Honesty is basic to the structure of human relationships in virtually all contexts. Dishonesty is self-defeating because it involves being in conflict with realty. Morality in business involves objectively recognizing and dealing with customers, employees, creditors, stockholders, and others as autonomous rational individuals with their particular goals and desires. The trader principle should govern the course of all human interactions because voluntary value-for-value relationships are consonant with human nature.

Honesty is closely related to the virtue of justice. Justice, a form of faithfulness to reality, is the virtue of granting to each man that which he objectively deserves. Justice is the expression of man’s rationality in his dealings with other men and involves seeking and granting the earned. A trader, a man of justice, earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. For example, a virtuous manager must make sure that customers get what they pay for. In addition, he needs to identify employees for what they accomplish and treat them accordingly. Employees should be objectively appraised and compensated based on their contribution toward achieving a firm’s mission, values, and goals. A virtuous manager will discriminate among all those that he deals with (i.e., customers, suppliers, workers, etc.) based on relevant qualities and personal merits such as ability, competency, performance, and character. He will not improperly discriminate based on irrelevant characteristics such as sex, race, nationality, and so on.[2]

Although individuals can learn from each other, the fact remains that each of us thinks and acts alone and is responsible for his own actions. Independence requires the acceptance of one’s intellectual responsibility for his own existence, requires that a man form his own judgments, and that he support himself by the work of his own mind. It is not a corporation’s fault if someone does not attain his goals. Each employee is responsible for his favorable or unfavorable outcomes in a business setting where responsibilities are defined by, and arise out of, his particular role. Of course, a goal may not be completely under one’s control. It may require interdependence with or on other employees who co-contribute to whether or not someone attains a goal. Positive change and innovation in a company are based on the creativity of logical independent thinkers. It is through such employees that a firm discovers and invents ways to improve the fiscal bottom line thereby increasing the firm’s market value.

Integrity is the refusal to permit a breach between thought and action. It means acting consistently with rational principles that will lead to success and happiness. In business, an employee’s rationally-made plans are integrated with his actions in order to bring values into existence. From more of a macro viewpoint, we could say that the integrity of a business is maintained if the purpose for which it was created is followed (i.e., the maximization of owner value).[3]

Productiveness, the virtue of creating material values, is the act of translating one’s thoughts and goals into reality. Productiveness comprises an important existential component of virtuousness and is a responsibility of every moral person. It involves a commitment to creating value and to being self-responsible for bringing what one needs and wants into existence. Workers in a business are committed to producing wealth and bringing about well-being by taking the actions required to achieve the firm’s mission. Profits are an indicator of productive work on the part of people who want to achieve, produce, and improve well-being. Because people differ with respect to their intelligence, talents, and circumstances, the moral issue becomes how a particular employee addresses his work given his facticity, including his potentialities and concrete circumstances. In a business, the Randian virtues (including productiveness) offer a set of principles for getting the most value from one’s work. Rand’s Objectivist ethics recognizes that individuals search for meaning and purpose in the various components of one’s life (i.e., one’s work life, love life, home life, social life, and so on). Each of these is an end-in-itself and a means to the end of one’s life in total. One’s life in total is an end-in-itself and an ultimate value.

Pride, also called moral ambitiousness, is a man’s commitment to achieving the best in his life thereby effecting his moral perfection. Pride is the reward we earn by living by the other six Objectivist virtues. A businessman’s drive for success is a result of his taking pride in the business portion of his life. Each employee needs to work in a way as to be able to be rightfully proud of what he has done. Work is needed not only for sustenance, but also for one’s psychological well-being—it can be viewed as a means by which a man can maintain an active mind, attain purposes, and follow a goal-directed path throughout his lifetime. Through work a man can achieve his highest potentials. Doing work well in accordance with the goals of a firm (which are aligned with the personal goals of the worker) can cause an employee to positively enhance his self-esteem.

Dr. Edward W. Younkins is Professor of Accountancy at Wheeling Jesuit University. He is the author of Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise [Lexington Books, 2002]. Many of Dr. Younkins’s essays can be found online at his web page at www.quebecoislibre.org. You can contact Dr. Younkins at younkins@wju.edu.

 


[1] Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics is specifically related to business and business ethics in Kirkpatrick 1992; Greiner and Kinni 2001; and Hicks 2003.

[2] See Locke and Woiceshyn 1995 for an argument for honesty in business from the perspective of rational egoism.

[3] Paine 1994 provides an interesting perspective on how to manage for organizational integrity.

References

Arjoon, Surendra. (2000). Virtue theory as a dynamic theory of business. Journal of Business Ethics, no. 28: 159-78.

Greiner, Donna and Theodore Kinni. (2001). Ayn Rand and Business. New York: Texere.

Hicks, Stephen R.C. (2003). Ayn Rand and contemporary business ethics. Journal of Accounting: Ethics and Public Policy 3 (1) (Winter): 1-26.

———. (2009). What business ethics can learn from Entrepreneurship. Journal of Private Enterprise 24 (2): 49-57.

Kirkpatrick, Jerry. (1992). Ayn Rand’s objectivist ethics as the foundation for business ethics. In Business Ethics and Common Sense. Edited by Robert W. McGee. Westport: CT: Quorum Books 67-88.

Locke, Edwin A. (2001). and J. Woiceshyn. (1995). Why businessmen should be honest: The argument from rational egoism. Journal of Organizational Behavior 16: 405-14.

Mintz, Stephen M. (1996). Aristotelian virtue and business ethics education. Journal of Business Ethics, no. 15: 827-38.

Paine, Lynn Sharp. (1994). Managing for organizational integrity. Harvard Business Review 72 (March-April): 106-17.

Rand, Ayn.  (1964). Objectivist ethics. In The Virtue of Selfishness. New York: New American Library.

Whetstone, J. Thomas. (2001). How virtue fits within business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, no. 33: 101-14.