Nov 182011

Ari Armstrong created a good video contrasting Occupy Wall Street with the friendly capitalist exchanges at the nearby McDonald’s.

I love Ari’s interview style of just letting people speak for themselves, particularly in this case, where the occupiers reveal so much.

On a funnier note, I loved this segment from The Daily Show:

And the two segments with Stephen Colbert — Part 1 and Part 2 were funny too:

Steve Jobs, Gone Forever

 Posted by on 5 October 2011 at 4:44 pm  Business, Heroes, Steve Jobs
Oct 052011

Apple reports that Steve Jobs has died.

Thank you Steve, for all that you did to make my life so much more productive, interesting, easy, and fun. The world is a bleaker place today.

I just want to cry.

Update: I created a Facebook page to express my gratitude to Steve Jobs and allow others to do so too: Thank You, Steve Jobs:

Please post your personal thank-you to Steve Jobs on its wall.


Hooray! The fourth and final event of Capitalism Awareness Week is tonight… and you can watch it live via streaming! Here’s the announcement:

The Financial Crisis: Causes, Consequences and Cures

John Allison, Former Chairman and CEO, BB&T Corporation

The cause of the recent financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn has been hotly debated over the last few years. The media, politicians, and even many businessmen have placed the blame on the supposed excesses of free-market capitalism. In this lecture, John Allison, former Chairman and CEO of BB&T, argues that this crisis is in fact a legacy of government’s anti-capitalist policies.

Mr. Allison presents his unique perspective of the financial services industry to support his argument that massive government intervention into the U.S. economy—from the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 to a reckless crusade to encourage home-ownership—laid the groundwork for an unsustainable real estate boom. He offers his views on what contributed to the financial crisis and how the government’s response to the inevitable bust—a frenzied series of bailouts, nationalizations, and “stimulus” efforts—is only making things worse.

Finally, Mr. Allison discusses some of his proposed immediate and long-term solutions for moving us towards a stronger economy. Mr. Allison will demonstrate that capitalism, far from being the cause of our financial troubles, is its only cure.

Tuesday, October 4th
5:00 PM Pacific, 6:00 PM Mountain, 7:00 PM Central, 8:00 PM Eastern
North Carolina State University and live streamed online worldwide

You can watch the event live from this page.

Remember, if you’ve not yet contributed to these awesome efforts by The Undercurrent but you’d like to do so… it’s not too late! Paul and I won’t be matching funds as with the first $2000 contributed, but your money will be well-spent!

To make a one-time donation, use this PayPal link. To make a recurring donation, visit TU’s donation page and follow the instructions for “Recurring Monthly Payments.”

NetFlix Shoots Its Own Foot

 Posted by on 19 September 2011 at 1:00 pm  Business, Film
Sep 192011

NetFlix announces a major change to its business model:

…we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently. It’s hard for me to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary and best: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”.

… Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to to access their DVD queues and choose movies. … A negative of the renaming and separation is that the and websites will not be integrated. So if you subscribe to both services, and if you need to change your credit card or email address, you would need to do it in two places. Similarly, if you rate or review a movie on Qwikster, it doesn’t show up on Netflix, and vice-versa.

My reaction? I immediately cancelled my streaming account — something that I didn’t even consider after the price increase a few months ago. I don’t use that nearly as much as the DVDs, and I’m just not interested in the hassle of managing two separate queues. Instead, I’ll likely check out Amazon’s streaming service.

Based on the 11,000-plus comments, I’m not alone.

Video: The Morality of Extreme Couponing

 Posted by on 16 September 2011 at 1:00 pm  Business, Ethics, Videocast
Sep 162011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed the morality of extreme couponing. The question was:

Is “extreme couponing” moral? Earlier this year, the Boston Globe wrote about people who engage in “extreme couponing.” Basically, they find ways to redeem store coupons in a fashion that still abides by the rules, but they get free stuff out of the deal. Are these people moral, or are they parasites because they don’t actually live by trading value for value? Are they violating rights?

Here’s the video of my answer:

If you like it, please share it! Also, all my webcast and other videos can be found on my YouTube channel.


On Monday, Jonathan Hoenig of Capitalist Pig interviewed me on WLS 890 AM of Chicago about the meaning of Labor Day and the role of the mind in production. (He was acting as a substitute host.)

It was the first radio interview that I’ve done, and I hope the first of many. While I see much room for improvement, I’m darn pleased with how it went. Many thanks to Jonathan Hoenig!

Listen Now

    12:35 minutes

Download This Episode

Subscribe to the Feed

Jul 262011

The NPR show Planet Money recently aired a fascinating story about the underground online market for stolen credit card numbers. (Click on the link to listen to the audio file.)

Basically, this underground market has many features of legitimate online sales websites (such as eBay or Amazon), but with some curious inversions.

For instance, you can’t get an account unless two other current members (who are also criminals) can “vouch” for you as also being a fellow criminal.

However, to do any kind of “business” they still have to rely on some of the same mechanisms that honest marketplaces use. For instance, there are rating systems for buyers to give feedback on sellers of these stolen credit cards. Getting a good A+ rating as a seller is critical to this sort of “commercial” success. Many sellers also have FAQ’s (“Do you offer discounts for bulk purchases?”, etc.) that mirror the sorts of FAQs one sees on eBay.

Of course, the transactions are conducted not via credit card (heh), but through other forms of secure digital currency.

Other funny/bizarre tidbits:

  • The site moderator warns users not to use ALL CAPS in their posts, otherwise, they’ll be banned.

  • To get in, you also have to click on a “Terms of Use” box that states you’re not a journalist nor a law enforcement officer. In other words, they are relying on the “honesty” of the bad guys. (Of course, the story was aired by an NPR journalist working with an FBI agent who quite appropriately “agreed” to those terms without any moral qualms.)

    (Update: SteveD points out that the Terms of Use are relying on the honest of the good guys, not the bad guys. Yes — quite right!)

  • Many of the big operations end up functioning like real businesses, hiring employees, etc. In other words, they “successful” bad guys have to work hard for their ill-gotten gains — which makes one wonder why they don’t just get honest jobs.

As I listened to the story, it really struck me how the bad guys were in so many ways parasitical upon methods and practices of genuine honest producers.

The full story lasts about 30 minutes and I highly recommend listening to the whole thing! (Download the audio file.)

Video: Responsibility and Wealth

 Posted by on 25 May 2011 at 7:00 am  Business, Ethics, Videocast
May 252011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I answered the following question about wealth and responsibility from Objectivist Answers:

Doesn’t greater wealth entail greater responsibility? If you have amassed a great fortune, don’t you also have to shoulder a greater responsibility to society and your fellow man than others? After all, success in business doesn’t occur in a vacuum: it always depends on the community to some extent. People like Michael Bloomberg or George Lucas know that they would not be where they are today without some pretty significant assistance from others. So shouldn’t they assume more responsibility for their fellow man than others?

Here’s my brief answer, now posted to YouTube:

Rationally Selfish Q&A: Character in Hiring

 Posted by on 3 August 2010 at 11:30 am  Business, Ethics, Q&As
Aug 032010

Many thanks to the 75 people who voted 361 times on 10 questions for the first edition of my Rationally Selfish Q&A. I’m delighted by that response to this experiment, and I hope that you enjoy my answer to the top-voted question below.

Given the enthusiastic response so far, I’m pleased to continue the experiment. You can submit and vote on questions for next week’s Q&A on this page. I didn’t pre-load any questions this time, so please submit yours! However, some great questions lost by only a few votes last week. You’re welcome to resubmit any of interest for consideration this week, if you like.

Now, without further ado:

What are the most important qualities of character to look for when you hire people, besides technical ability? How can you determine if a person has those qualities?

More than anything else, honesty — down to the very marrow of the soul.

Some years ago, when working as a web programmer, a client asked me for some data about site traffic. My report was not was favorable, and I hated to be the bearer of bad news. So I tried to soften the blow with something like “I’m sorry to report that…”

My client’s reply startled me. She chided me for being apologetic, saying “Facts are always good!” By that, she wasn’t denying the existence of unwelcome facts. Instead, her point was that you’re always better off knowing the facts, even when they’re not what you’d like, rather than remaining ignorant, mistaken, or deluded. My client was right: facts are always good. And more, that attitude is the essence of true honesty.

Since then, time and again, I’ve found that a person’s most important quality of character is that kind of honesty. For any serious dealings, personal or professional, a person must be committed to the facts of reality above all else. He must be honest to the core.

What does that mean in practice?

  • The honest person doesn’t ignore or deny facts to gratify his feelings and desires: he seeks the truth and acts on that.
  • The honest person doesn’t invent excuses to save face: he admits his errors and reverses course.
  • The honest person doesn’t try to cheat reality by deceiving others: he’s truthful, even when difficult.
  • The honest person doesn’t evade his problems, thereby allowing them to fester and grow: he works to identify and remedy them.

In short, the honest person’s most basic policy is “Reality First!”

The process of judging whether a person is deeply honest requires some time: you need to see — in word and deed — that he regards any willful departure from the facts as unthinkable.

In the process of hiring someone, you can assess a person’s honesty by asking certain kinds of questions, such as:

  • You realize that you’ve made a serious error on a project that will delay delivery. What do you do? Why?
  • A friend on your team asks you to lie to a client about a trivial matter. What do you do? Why?
  • Your boss proposes an idea that you think will likely to fail. What do you do? Why?
  • What was the worst mistake you made in your prior job? What did you do about it? What might you do differently now? Why?
  • You realize that a policy you implemented over the objections of your team is having just the kind of negative effects they predicted. What do you do now? Why?

A person’s answers to such questions can reveal much about his commitment to facts — or the lack thereof.

Most of all, remember that in judging people, just as with everything else, “facts are good!”

Update: I’m now answering questions on practical philosophy and the principles of living well in my internet radio show Philosophy in Action. The Q&A broadcasts every Sunday morning at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET. Each week, I select the most popular and interesting questions from the ongoing queue of questions. Please submit your questions, as well as vote and comment on questions that you find interesting!

If you can’t attend the live broadcast, you can listen to the episode later in the podcast archive or by subscribing to the Philosophy in Action Podcast RSS Feed:

May 242010

Some FormSpring Questions and Answers on philosophy in business:

It’s hard to be pro-business since few (none?) are actually in favor of freedom and individual rights, but rather lobby to twist big government to their purposes which mostly conflict with individual rights. Thoughts?

I’m pro-business for the awesome products they produce that make my life better — not for their politics, nor for their pull-peddling.

Sadly, it’s not reasonable to expect businesses to be any better than the culture as a whole. And the culture is solidly behind a mixed economy.

Why don’t companies/firms hire staff philosophers?

Most philosophers would be destructive to business, as they’re hostile to the self-interested pursuit of profit.

Good philosophers could be useful, but likely only as occasional consultants, not full-time employees. However, most businessmen today are extremely pragmatic and somewhat altruistic, so they wouldn’t see the value in a principled approach to business.

Can you think of a good, specific example of how a consulting philosopher might be of value to a business? Especially assuming the business owner was already an Objectivist and had a basic grasp of rational selfishness and the danger/evil of altruism.

The fact that a business owner is an Objectivist doesn’t mean that he will create a corporate culture that supports the virtues. (For an example of what that looks like, see what John Allison did with BB&T.)

A philosopher could help do that. It’s not trivial, for example, to see what justice requires in compensation. Or whether the business should be involved in charity. Or how to deal fairly with an employee suffering from personal problems. Or how to maximize productivity. Or how to ensure that employees are rewarded for facing problems rather than evading them.

Via the Ayn Rand Institute, Objectivist intellectuals have done that kind work with Hutchinson Technologies; they’ve put together training seminars and the like for management.

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