Would You Trust a Randian Banker?

Written by Noah Kristula-Green on Monday December 5, 2011

Conservatives give a lot of deference to the opinions of business leaders and other 'job creators'. The operating assumption is that their criticisms of White House policies are accurate and well informed. What if this assumption is largely off-base?

Consider this roundtable hosted on CNBC between Austan Goolsbee, the former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and several business executives. Pay close attention to the arguments made by John Allison, former CEO of the bank BB&T:

(H/T Barry Ritholtz)

In this video, Allison argues that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were responsible for the majority of subprime mortgage loans. Goolsbee is aghast because this is not factually accurate at all.

Allison is the former CEO of one of the largest banks in America. It is a job demands incredible attention to detail and expertise. What could possible lead him to adopt a stance which is so at odds with what the facts say?

It turns out that Allison is actually a major philanthropists who has been making donations to business schools across the country on the condition that they teach Ayn Rand in the classroom. Allison doesn’t only give a lot of money to spread the Rand gospel, he believes it himself so he gives lectures on the topic.

If you have taken a business school class that teaches Atlas Shrugged as part of a course on the “morality of capitalism”, it is likely that the course is a product of BB&T's money.

Allison is no David and Charles Koch, but I suspect he is expressing an opinion that is shared by many of the major donors to Heritage, Cato, and other think tanks.

The moral of the story: just because the person talking has a lot of money doesn’t mean they always know what they are talking about, especially if they never grew out of their Ayn Rand phase.