Dr. Yaron Brook, President and Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute, has had a significant impact on the politics of Free Market Mojo’s authors and, as a consequence, his videos and writings have frequently appeared on this blog.
Dr. Brook is a contributing editor of The Objective Standard, has contributed a series of columns to Forbes, and is a frequent guest on a variety of radio and TV shows, having appeared on Fox Business News, Fox News (The O’Reilly Factor, Your World with Neil Cavuto, At Large with Geraldo Rivera), CNN (Talkback Live and the Glenn Beck Program), CNBC (Closing Bell and On the Money), and C-SPAN.
A popular lecturer at corporations, universities, public forums, community and professional groups, Dr. Brook is known for his radical ideas and passionate speaking style.
Dr. Brook was born and raised in Israel. He served as a first sergeant in Israeli military intelligence and earned a BSc in civil engineering from Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, Israel. In 1987 he moved to the United States, where he received his MBA and Ph.D. in finance from the University of Texas at Austin; he became an American citizen on May 28, 2003. For seven years he was an award-winning finance professor at Santa Clara University, and in 1998 he cofounded a financial advisory firm, BH Equity Research, of which he is presently managing director and chairman.
Today, we are proud to present part I of our two-part interview with Dr. Yaron Brook. As with any writings or comments from outside sources that appear on Free Market Mojo, the author’s views are his own and are not endorsed by either author of Free Market Mojo.
FMM: Often in the conservative movement, we see a conflict between the more “libertarian” conservatives (those concerned primarily with individual rights) and religious conservatives, the former group being typically composed of “fiscal” or “economic” conservatives while the latter group contains the social conservatives. Do you believe reconciliation is possible between these two groups?
Brook: I am not interested in such a reconciliation occurring; I don’t think any benefit would be achieved by it. “Conservatism” as a movement is a failure. It promised to move America closer to laissez-faire—to “conserve” the traditional American economic system—and it has done nothing but make weak arguments against the growth of government, or take a leadership role in growing government (Nixon’s price and wage controls, Reagan’s increased spending and expansion of Social Security, George W. Bush’s prescription drug bill, education bill, government-subsidized “ownership society,” and Sarbanes Oxley). What is needed, as Ayn Rand long ago pointed out in her 1960 article “Conservatism: An Obituary,” (reprinted in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal) is to recognize that capitalism can only be defended successfully on moral grounds: as the system that recognizes the individual’s right to his own life and his own mind. This requires rejecting the traditional idea that selfishness is evil and destructive, and that altruism—self-sacrifice—is good and beneficial. It requires recognizing that, as Ayn Rand argued extensively, the selfish pursuit of wealth and happiness via production and trade under laissez-faire capitalism is the true virtue.
FMM: I recently happened upon a blog named “Soul of Atlas”, authored by Mark Henderson, who is currently writing a book on the similarities and differences between Objectivism and Christianity – two philosophies that many would see as being antithetical to each other. Do you believe it is possible for a person of faith to live by the three principle values of Objectivism (Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem)?
Brook: To the extent someone follows a policy of faith—of believing in some supernatural being for which there is no evidence and whose alleged powers contradict everything we know about science—he is doing the opposite of living by reason. For more on the issue of religion, click here.
FMM: Your paper, “Just War Theory vs. American Self-Defense”, as well your various arguments for Israel’s right to exist, have had a major impact on our foreign policy views. From the standpoint of a foreign policy based on rational self-interest, what should the U.S. attitude towards Israel be? And what role (if any) should the U.S. play in Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors?
Brook: In thinking about questions of this sort, it is important to begin with identifying our terms. By a foreign policy based on rational self-interest, I mean a policy dedicated to the protection of the individual rights of Americans. One implication of this view is that when evaluating other countries for various purposes, including considering alliances, we judge them according to whether and to the extent they protect individual rights. That is the moral-political principle that was at the founding of America — and we ought to use it as a standard for assessing other regimes. Countries that live up to this standard are potential friends and allies and trading partners; countries that don’t are potential threats. Israel is the solitary regime in the Middle East that respects and protects individual rights; it is surrounded on all sides by various forms of dictatorship. Just look up the records of Egypt, Syria or Jordan. They are horrifying. In Israel citizens — regardless of their creed or race — have the right to vote, to freedom of speech, to assembly, to start businesses — all the things we in the West take for granted, but which are precious—and which in the Middle East are unheard of. See here.
All things being equal, I think our attitude toward Israel should be as friendly and supportive as our attitude toward France, Britain or Canada — which are likewise basically free nations. Could Israel (and these other nations) be more consistent in its implementation of the principle of individual rights? Yes, and I wish they were. But unlike its neighbors Israel protects rights–and that’s a crucial value.
So, Washington should definitely be friendly toward Israel regardless of the goings on in the rest of the Middle East, but in view of current situation an even closer relationship is warranted — for the sake of America’s interest.
America today faces an enemy in the form of Islamic totalitarianism — an ideological movement seeking to impose the rule of Allah’s laws worldwide, and led by the theocratic regime in Iran. Adherents of this movement were behind 9/11 and a host of prior attacks on U.S. interests. The Islamist movement encompasses various factions — Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the regime in Iran, and others.
Israel today also faces this same enemy — specifically the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran axis. This axis was behind the 2006 and 2008/9 wars against Israel. Hezbollah has already created a mini-Islamic state in Southern Lebanon; Hamas is working to do that in Gaza. These are threats not only to Israel’s security — as we’ve seen in the recent wars and in Hamas’s rocket attacks — but also threats to us. Note that Hezbollah is Iran’s proxy force. For example, it was behind the massacre of 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983 — one of the deadliest attacks on U.S. Marines since World War II. I would argue that Washington should encourage Israel to crush these Islamist forces, and even offer weapons and expertise to help it eliminate our common enemy.
In this connection I would recommend to your readers a forthcoming book on foreign policy, to which I contributed several chapters: Winning the Unwinnable War. The book presents an analysis of America’s foreign policy in the eight years since 9/11 and offers a positive alternative based on the moral idea of rational self-interest. The book offers a fresh, rational vision for what America’s mideast policy should look like. More information here.
FMM: In Ayn Rand’s non-fiction book The Virtue of Selfishness, she asserts that taxation should be voluntary. Are there any theories as to how a system of voluntary government financing would work?
Brook: Well, in that book she actually discusses a bit how such a system would work, so I encourage readers to take a look at the relevant essay, “Government Financing in a Free Society.” But, to address the concern behind the question, it wouldn’t be a hard problem to finance a government voluntarily. Any population that would accept and desire a laissez-faire system would place a profound value on a government limited solely to the protection of their rights—and would be more than willing to pay the modest amount of money necessary to finance it. (Compare that to today’s citizenry, which alternately desires and despises its oppressive, paternalistic government, and would never voluntarily finance the government’s monstrous budget.) As to working out the details of how to best carry out voluntary financing, that issue was of very little interest to Ayn Rand and I feel the same way. Think about it: we have dozens of “czars” running the economy—we’re not exactly on the verge of laissez-faire. Thus, it is way too early to be talking about financing a free society. Let’s get close to a free society first.
FMM: On the blog, we’ve previously posted articles on monetary system of competing currencies – these articles being largely based on F. A. Hayek’s arguments for such a system. As a leading defender of individual rights and a PhD in finance, what is your opinion of such a system? Along the same lines, what, in your opinion, would an ideal monetary system look like?
Brook: What I advocate is a fully free banking and monetary system, similar ( but with even more freedom) to America’s banking system during the 19th century. In such a system, the marketplace chooses what kind of money will be used and how banks are structured.
As to the currency, what material that currency is made of, how many different currencies there are, what policies banks use with regard to currency, etc., should be solely determined by the decisions of free individuals in the marketplace. Whether that leads to one dominant currency (which is what I would expect), or twenty, is up to them.
A free market leaves individuals free to devise the best economic arrangements they can think of, and over time the better ones win out while the worse ones fade away. So the ideal monetary system would be the product of the combined intelligence of untold thousands of smart people. Even the most brilliant economic mind in the world couldn’t tell you what it would look like in its particulars, though of course he could add valuable ideas to its development.
For more on free banking, and the proper relationship between the government and the economy, see “A Call for the Separation of State and Economics.”
This concludes part I of the interview. We are, of course, very grateful to Dr. Brook and his staff for their time and energy. We hope you will visit next week for Part II.
Update: Click here to read Part II.
Click here to view other Free Market Mojo interviews.