Should You Care How Other People Perceive You?

(p. B2) Sadly, it does appear that being flawed in one area may help in others. In an article in The Atlantic titled “Why It Pays to Be a Jerk,” the author Jerry Useem quotes several studies that show that nice guys don’t usually win. Donald Hambrick, a management professor at Penn State, told the magazine, “To the extent that innovation and risk-taking are in short supply in the corporate world, narcissists are the ones who are going to step up to the plate.”
Not everyone thinks Jobs was a jerk. Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for Internet software and services, wrote on Twitter that he felt the Gibney film was “an inaccurate and meanspirited view of my friend. It’s not a reflection of the Steve I knew.”
But the black hat-white hat version of Jobs may be too confining.
In a fascinating interview last year with Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, Jonathan Ive, Apple’s famed designer and longtime friend of Jobs, recounted a telling story. He remembered a time when Jobs had been tough — too tough, in Mr. Ive’s estimation — on his team. Mr. Ive pulled him aside and told him to be bit nicer. “Well, why?” Jobs replied. “Because I care about the team,” Mr. Ive responded. “And he said this brutally, brilliantly insightful thing, which was, ‘No, Jony, you’re just really vain,’ ” Mr. Ive recalled. “He said, ‘You just want people to like you, and I’m surprised at you because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed you were perceived by other people.’ ”
That story and the documentary left me with me with two questions: Would you rather do something extraordinary that benefits the lives of millions of people? Or be liked by several hundred? And does it have to be an either-or question?
The answer, like Jobs, is complicated.

For the full commentary, see:
Andrew Ross Sorkin. “Decoding Steve Jobs, in Life and on Film.” The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 8, 2015): B1-B2.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 7, 2015.)

Greenspan’s Epiphany: As Entitlements Rise, Savings Fall


Source of book image:

(p. C11) In his new book “The Map and the Territory,” to be released on Tuesday, Mr. Greenspan, 87, goes on a hunt for what has gone wrong in American politics and in the U.S. economy.
. . .
Mr. Greenspan’s biggest revelation came one day about a year ago when he was playing with gross domestic savings numbers. What he found, to his surprise and initial skepticism, was that an increase in entitlements has closely corresponded to a decline in the country’s savings. “We had this extraordinary increase in benefits, with each party trying to outbid the other,” he says. “That practice has been eroding the country’s flow of savings that’s so critical in financing our capital investment.” The decline in savings has been partly offset by borrowing from abroad, which brings us to our current foreign debt: “$5 trillion and counting,” he says.
. . .
Studying the minutiae of the events leading to the financial crisis brought to mind some lessons from his famous friendship, from the 1950s on, with the late Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand.
. . .
Mr. Greenspan then believed in analysis based mainly on hard science and empirical facts. Rand told him that unless he considered human nature and its irrational side, he would “miss a very large part of how human beings behaved.” At the time they weren’t discussing economics, but today he realizes the full impact of emotions and instincts on markets. He also has come to admire psychologist and Princeton University professor emeritus Daniel Kahneman’s work applying psychological insights to economic theory, for which he won a Nobel Prize in 2002.
. . .
With his new book, Mr. Greenspan hopes to provide politicians and the public with a road map to avoid making the same mistakes again. His suggestions include reducing entitlements, embracing “creative destruction” by letting facilities with cutting-edge technology displace those with low productivity, and fixing the political system by encouraging bipartisanship.

For the full interview/review, see:
ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer/reviewer. “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the interview/review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan: What Went Wrong; The former Fed chairman on where the economy went wrong, where he went wrong–and Ayn Rand.”)

The book discussed is:
Greenspan, Alan. The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.

Steve Jobs Channels Ellis Wyatt

(p. 260) In 2007 Forbes magazine named Steve Jobs the highest-paid exec-(p. 261)utive of any of America’s five hundred largest companies, based on gains in the value of stock granted to him at Apple. He was on the board of directors of the Walt Disney Co. Yet his former residence in Woodside, where he had once met with Catmull and Smith and mused about buying Lucasfilm’s Computer Division, was now in a state of decay under his ownership.
He had wanted to demolish it; after a group of neighborhood residents opposed his plan to do so, he left the house open to the elements. The interior suffered damage from water and mold. Vines crept up the stucco walls and wandered inside.
The memories that haunted its hallways were those of Jobs’s darkest times. He had bought the house only months before the humiliation of his firing from Apple; he lived in it through that firing and through the hard, money-hemorrhaging years of Pixar and NeXT. He left it as his fortunes were about to change, as he was sending Microsoft away from Pixar, convinced that he had something he should hold on to.
When a judge ruled against his quest for a demolition permit, Jobs appealed in 2006 and 2007 all the way to the California Supreme Court, but he lost at every stage. He received proposals from property owners offering to cart the house away in sections and restore it elsewhere; he rejected them. One way or another, it seemed, he meant for the house to be destroyed.

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.
(Note: italics in original.)
(Note: The passage above is from the Epilogue and the pages given above are from the hardback edition (pp. 260-261). The identical passage also appears in the 2009 paperback edition, but on p. 265.

Impressions of the Movie Atlas Shrugged, Part 1

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was the most important book of my youth. I still believe that it is an important, and mainly good, novel.
My brother Eric asked me what I thought of the Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 movie that my family went to see on Saturday afternoon (4/16/11). I sent him these first impressions:

I think some of the people making the movie probably meant well—but it turned out pretty wooden.

Rearden is the main male character in the movie, and the range of his facial expressions is between mildly annoyed and mildly amused.
There isn’t anger or passion or joy or fear in the movie, although all of those were in the first part of the book. Watching the movie is like watching a set of dramatized homilies.
The hokey scenes of a shadowy John Galt, kill some of the suspense. (And dressing him in a 1940s fedora seems awkwardly atavistic, given that the movie is supposed to be taking place in 2016.)
It wasn’t all bad. There are some nice scenes of a fast train traveling through Colorado and over a sleek bridge of Rearden metal. And I agree with many of the homilies.
Overall, I wasn’t appalled, but I was disappointed.

For Rand Money Was a Reward and a Noble Means, But Her Vision Was the End


Source of book image:

For Rand, adopting the dollar sign as a symbol was an ironic gesture–an elegant and graceful way of thumbing her nose at those who attacked the innovation and creativity of capitalism. They criticized a caricatured version of capitalism, and she threw the caricature back at them.
But at her most serious, money was never an end-in-itself for her, but rather a reward for achieving creative innovation, and a means for accomplishing even more ambitious creative innovation.
Remember that in Rand’s pure and lyrical Anthem, the hero is willing to give his invention away, and even be killed, as long as the Council agrees to allow the light he invented to keep shining.
In that wonderful moment with Bennett Cerf, Ayn Rand lived up to the hero she had created:

(p. 8) When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt’s speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls “a comment that became publishing legend”: “Would you cut the Bible?” One can imagine what Cerf thought — he had already told Rand plainly, “I find your political philosophy abhorrent” — but the strange thing is that Rand’s grandiosity turned out to be perfectly justified.

In fact, any editor certainly would cut the Bible, if an agent submitted it as a new work of fiction. But Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties, she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt’s oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life.
. . .
Yet while Rand took to wearing a dollar-sign pin to advertise her love of capitalism, Heller makes clear that the author had no real affection for dollars themselves. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done.

For the full review, see:
ADAM KIRSCH. “Capitalist With a $.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 1, 2009): 1 & 8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review is dated October 29, 2009 and has the title “Ayn Rand’s Revenge.”)

Book reviewed:
Heller, Anne C. Ayn Rand and the World She Made. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2009.

Here is what the hero says in the key passage of Anthem:

“Our brothers! Your are right. Let the will of the Council be done upon our body. We do not care. But the light? What will you do with the light?” (p. 72)

Rand, Ayn. Anthem. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1946.

Did the Rothschilds Anticipate Atlas Shrugged?

DrumlummonMineRothschilds2010-05-18.jpg“A consulting geologist, Ben Porterfield, exiting the Drumlummon Mine.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 14) Marysville, a dot of a town in the mountains near Helena, was covered in gold dust in its heyday in the late 1800s. It was home to one of the great mother-lode gold and silver fortunes of the West, the Drumlummon Mine. Then it petered out — familiar story — to near ghost-town status through the long decades after the mine closed around 1904.

. . .
Old mysteries of law and public relations cloud the story of the Drumlummon — especially how and why it closed in the early 1900s. Its owners at the time, the Rothschild family from Europe, were locked in an extended court battle over nearby mining claims when they announced in 1901 that the mine’s lower levels would be allowed to flood because profitable ore had not been found there.
RX’s mining operations director, Mike Gunsinger, said he became convinced in reading the old accounts that the Rothschilds had lied — flooding the mine not because it was played out, but to conceal its riches. The company suing the Rothschilds eventually won, but they never had the capital to drain the water. A last attempt, by a new set of owners, failed in 1951.
“I think it was a dog-in-the-manger attitude,” Mr. Gunsinger said, referring to the Rothschilds. “If I can’t have it, nobody can.”
That told him, he said, that the gold was still down there.

For the full story, see:
KIRK JOHNSON. “Marysville Journal; As a Near Ghost Town in Montana Watches, a Gold Mine Is Reborn.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., May 2, 2010): 14.
(Note: the online version of the commentary was dated April 30, 2010.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The Entrepreneurial Epistemology of Wikipedia


Source of book image:

Wikipedia is a very unexpected and disruptive institution. Amateurs have produced an encyclopedia that is bigger, deeper, more up-to-date, and arguably of at least equal accuracy, with the best professional encyclopedias, such as Britannica.
I learned a lot from Lih’s book. For instance I did not know that the founders of Wikipedia were admirers of Ayn Rand. And I did not know that the Oxford English Dictionary was constructed mainly by volunteer amateurs.
I also did not know anything about the information technology precursors and the back-history of the institutions that helped Wikipedia to work.
I learned much about the background, values, and choices of Wikipedia entrepreneur “Jimbo” Wales. (Jimbo Wales seems not to be perfect, but on balance to be one of the ‘good guys’ in the world—one of those entrepreneurs who can be admired for something beyond their particular entrepreneurial innovation.)
Lih’s book also does a good job of sketching the problems and tensions within Wikipedia.
I believe that Wikipedia is a key step in the development of faster and better institutions of knowledge generation and communication. I also believe that substantial further improvements can and will be made.
Most importantly, I think that you can only go so far with volunteers–ways must be found to reward and compensate.
In the meantime, much can be learned from Lih. In the next few weeks, I will be quoting a few passages that I found especially illuminating.

Book discussed:
Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.

The Decline of Motive Power in Socialist Venezuela

VenezuelaEnergy2010-01-10.jpg“In Venezuela, which faces power shortages, blackouts have spurred protests like this demonstration in Caracas.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) CARACAS — Venezuela, a country with vast reserves of oil and natural gas, as well as massive rushing waterways that cut through its immense rain forests, strangely finds itself teetering on the verge of an energy crisis.
. . .
The government has forced draconian electricity rationing on certain sectors, which could make matters worse for an economy already racked by recession. Critics say the socialist government is trying to snuff out capitalist-driven sectors with the rationing, while allowing government-favored industries in good standing to continue with business as usual.
Shopping malls, which analysts say use less than 1% of the power consumed in Venezuela, have nonetheless been a main focus for the government.
Malls have been told most stores can only be open between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.
“In a certain way, Chávez is attacking capitalism with the orders on shopping malls,” said Emilio Grateron, mayor of Caracas’s Chacao municipality, a bastion of those opposed to Mr. Chávez. “By limiting the hours we can go to malls, he is trying to slowly take away liberties, to create absolute control over things such as shopping.”
In Venezuela, whose capital Caracas is consistently ranked among the world’s most dangerous cities, residents see shopping malls as one of few havens in the country.
The government’s rationing efforts are also hitting metal producers. Their production has already been cut as much as 40%. Mr. Rodriguez, the electricity minister, said they may have to be completely closed to save more electricity.

For the full story, see:
DAN MOLINSKI. “Energy-Rich Venezuela Faces Power Crisis.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JANUARY 8, 2009): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Nationalizing Health Care: Communists Seized Pharmacy Owned By Ayn Rand’s Father

AynRandBooksBK.jpgSource of book images: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. C6) Ayn Rand poses theatrically in her signature cape and gold dollar-sign pin on the cover of a groundbreaking new biography. Rand also poses theatrically in this same Halloween-ready costume (Rand impersonators have been known to wear it) on the cover of another groundbreaking new biography. The two books are being published a week apart. And both have gray covers that make them look even more interchangeable. Yet Rand, whose Objectivist philosophy is enjoying one of its periodic resurgences, loathed the very idea of grayness. She preferred dichotomies that were strictly black and white.
. . .
Ms. Heller’s book is worth its $35 price, which is not the kind of detail that Rand herself would have been shy about trumpeting. When Russian Bolshevik soldiers commandeered and closed the St. Petersburg pharmacy run by Zinovy Rosenbaum, they made a lifelong capitalist of his 12-year-old daughter, Alissa, who would wind up fusing the subversive power of the Russian political novel with glittering Hollywood-fueled visions of the American dream.
. . .
Crucially, both authors understand the reasons that Rand’s popularity has endured, not only among college students dazzled (and thronged into packs) by her triumphant individualism but also by entrepreneurs. From the young Ted Turner, who rented billboards to promote the “Who is John Galt?” slogan from “Atlas Shrugged,” to the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, who have found self-contradictory new ways to mix populism with individual enterprise, it is clear that (in Ms. Burns’s words) “reports of Ayn Rand’s death are greatly exaggerated.”

For the full review, see:
JANET MASLIN. “Books of The Times; Twin Biographies of a Singular Woman, Ayn Rand.” The New York Times (Thurs., October 21, 2009): C6.
(Note: ellipses added.)

BB&T Founder John Allison Speaks for Rand’s Free Market Philosophy

AllisonJohn2009-08-14.jpg “John A. Allison IV, chairman of the banking company BB&T, is a devoted follower of Ayn Rand’s antigovernment views.” Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) OVER much of the last four decades, John A. Allison IV built BB&T from a local bank in North Carolina into a regional powerhouse that has weathered the economic crisis far better than many of its troubled rivals — largely by avoiding financial gimmickry.

And in his spare time, Mr. Allison travels the country making speeches about his bank’s distinctive philosophy.
Speaking at a recent convention in Boston to a group of like-minded business people and students, Mr. Allison tells a story: A boy is playing in a sandbox, only to have his truck taken by another child. A fight ensues, and the boy’s mother tells him to stop being selfish and to share.
“You learned in that sandbox at some really deep level that it’s bad to be selfish,” says Mr. Allison, adding that the mother has taught a horrible lesson. “To say man is bad because he is selfish is to say it’s bad because he’s alive.”
If Mr. Allison’s speech sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who celebrated the virtues of reason, self-interest and laissez-faire capitalism while maintaining that altruism is a destructive force. In Ms. Rand’s world, nothing is more heroic — and sexy — than a hard-working businessman free to pursue his wealth. And nothing is worse than a pesky bureaucrat trying to restrict business and redistribute wealth.
Or, as Mr. Allison explained, “put balls and chains on good people, and bad things happen.”
Ms. Rand, who died in 1982, has all sorts of admirers on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms and in the entertainment industry, including the hedge fund manager Clifford Asness, the former baseball great Cal Ripken Jr. and the Whole Foods chief executive, John Mackey.
But Mr. Allison, who remains BB&T’s chairman after retiring as chief executive in December, has emerged as perhaps the most vocal proponent of Ms. Rand’s ideas and of the dangers of government meddling in the markets. For a dedicated Randian like him, the government’s headlong rush to try to rescue and fix the economy is a horrifying re-(p. 6)alization of his worst fears.

For the full story, see:

ANDREW MARTIN. “Give Him Liberty, but Not a Bailout.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., August 2, 2009): 1 & 6.

(Note: the online title is the slightly different: “Give BB&T Liberty, but Not a Bailout.”)

How Ayn Rand Matters Today

(p. A7) Ayn Rand died more than a quarter of a century ago, yet her name appears regularly in discussions of our current economic turmoil. Pundits including Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santelli urge listeners to read her books, and her magnum opus, “Atlas Shrugged,” is selling at a faster rate today than at any time during its 51-year history.
. . .
Rand . . . noted that only an ethic of rational selfishness can justify the pursuit of profit that is the basis of capitalism — and that so long as self-interest is tainted by moral suspicion, the profit motive will continue to take the rap for every imaginable (or imagined) social ill and economic disaster. Just look how our present crisis has been attributed to the free market instead of government intervention — and how proposed solutions inevitably involve yet more government intervention to rein in the pursuit of self-interest.
Rand offered us a way out — to fight for a morality of rational self-interest, and for capitalism, the system which is its expression. And that is the source of her relevance today.

For the full commentary, see:
YARON BROOK. “Is Rand Relevant?” Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 14, 2009): A7.
(Note: ellipses added.)