Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Objectivity and Knowledge: So Vital

Nothing like stating the blindingly obvious, right? It is to me, and, hopefully, to my readers. Of course, it also depends if you understand objectivity as a connection to reality and knowledge as the integration of what is provided by that connection, which is known by very few today.

I am reminded of the importance of objectivity and knowledge in considering the relative virtues of three of my favorite books on the 2007 financial crisis. I recommend all three. Each has its own virtue and benefits to the reader. But, one book is in a different class because of the objectivity and knowledge of the author. He is an accomplished businessman and a serious student of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism.

The difference between the books written by economists and journalists and a banker can be huge. The difference is especially large when neither the economist or the journalist actually understands what it means to understand and know a subject, i.e., to know it objectively – tied to reality. This is the difference, in today’s culture, between a person whose method of thinking is objective, subjective, or intrinsic (the corresponding order would be a banker who understands their subject, the journalist who thinks anything goes and there is no actual truth, and the economist who thinks that laws themselves are part of reality and thus his ideas float). Obviously, only one of these three has a sound grasp of the morality of the individuals they write about.

The book by the journalists, Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption led to Economic Armageddon by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner, does offer a well-researched account of some parts of the crisis, which is to say that they are trying to be objective. But they have no clue about several issues: how banking functions, how regulators function, how a functioning economy works and why, and what is morality. Consequently, at times they make wildly impossible accusations, misrepresent events, and hold the innocent accountable (they do point at some truly guilty people, too, which is one reason the book is worth reading). If you don’t have a better understanding than they do, the book may lead to some poor conclusions. (You could recommend this book if it was read after the other two books.) In that the book offers a lot of information that wasn’t published before, you do learn important details.

Then there is Meltdown by Thomas Woods, who is an economist with a foundation in modern Austrian economics (post-Hayek, libertarian). He also makes many very good points. His understanding is better than that of the journalist, and although he has some obvious intrinsicist leanings, he makes no real bloopers. He is known to be religious and believes in self-sacrifice, which results in a rather flat support for the capitalist economy that he sees as better than the command economy. His justification is the benefit of the consumer. He tends to ignore the businessman. It is also worth reading because of the details he offers of the crisis and his decent understanding of the economics. But when compared with someone with an objective understanding of the crisis, it is obviously deficient.

So, the place to begin, and the one to read whether you have or have not read any other book on the crisis, is John A. Allison’s The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure. Mr. Allison has done the work to understand what objectivity means, i.e., connecting one’s ideas to physical reality. He also has years in the banking industry. Thus, he offers a fact based, conceptual analysis of what happened, why, what the consequences are, what the supposed cures are that Congress and the regulators imposed, and what we should actually do about it. This is what real explanation and analysis should look like.

Allison concretizes important points: the impact of regulation; the attitude and style of regulators; the destruction of independent action by the banker; the elevation of political pull over the blindingly obvious; etc. Ayn Rand and her followers have been asserting the destructive nature of government controls for decades. In this book are some specifics.

In future posts I will mention some of John Allison’s observations.

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