A few days after I posted “ARI Is Failing and Needs Our Help,” the Ayn Rand Institute sent out a letter from John Allison insisting that “we [at ARI] are doing our job” and making several claims attempting to show this. I’ll address those claims below.
I have great respect for John Allison as an accomplished entrepreneur, a man of real achievement (he created the 6th largest bank in the country), and a man of grace (somewhat unusual in today’s world). So, my criticism here is not of John.
The beginning of John’s letter is gracious, intelligent, and eloquent. But the excerpts below, which are intended to convince ARI’s followers and contributors that ARI is succeeding, are misleading.
ARI has delivered more than 4.5 million copies of Ayn Rand’s novels to students since 2002—a number that is going to grow more rapidly than ever now that we have the ability to deliver low-cost eBook editions of the novels.
How is this an accomplishment? When people are given free books, they have nothing invested in them and are less likely to read them than if they had paid for them. Although teachers make a “commitment” to teach the books, when schools and teachers get books for free, they have less incentive to teach them. I don’t see the payoff of 4.5 million books.
How many students seriously read those books? No one knows. Perhaps few. Most of the books are flimsy copies of Anthem. Is Anthem even the right content to introduce Ayn Rand? I don’t think so. It does not hook people the way The Fountainhead does.
Why has ARI not instead spent the donors’ money on marketing Ayn Rand’s and Leonard Peikoff’s books so that students, teachers, and schools would be inspired to pay for the books and then be motivated to actually read and teach them? Even if the numbers of books sold were lower than those given away, the results could be substantial.
One of my long-standing complaints about ARI is that they give away values that shouldn’t be given away. Ayn Rand’s books are not swag. They are the most important and most valuable books ever written. Why doesn’t ARI demonstrate this fact in its marketing and communications and thereby increase sales and actual reading of Rand’s books?
John Allison continues:
ARI has helped make our movement truly international. For example, overseas conferences have now caught up with and in some cases surpassed U.S. OCON attendance numbers. The latest AynRandCon–Europe, attracted 523 attendees—three quarters of whom were students relatively new to Rand.
Yes, ARI and Yaron Brook have helped the Objectivist movement become international. And Yaron has done some good work in this regard. However, the substantive groundwork and financing have come through my Prometheus Foundation and its predecessors—particularly the Objectivist Venture Fund, which has funded dozens of individuals and organizations throughout Europe and the world. John’s letter boasts of 523 attendees at an international conference (it should be thousands!). What the letter doesn’t say is that about two-thirds of those attendees came through organizations created by the Objectivist Venture Fund/Prometheus Foundation, such as the John Galt Schools and ARC Israel. Shouldn’t ARI give appropriate credit?
ARI has made learning about Ayn Rand’s ideas easier than ever, in part by making key courses from Rand, Peikoff, and other Objectivist thinkers available for free on its Ayn Rand University mobile app, its website, and its YouTube page. The app has been downloaded in every country on Earth except North Korea. Consumption of Rand’s and Peikoff’s courses has tripled in the last two years. ARI’s YouTube page has doubled its subscriber count during the same period.
ARI is calling a mobile app “Ayn Rand University.” That’s not right. And they are using it to give away all of Ayn Rand’s and Leonard Peikoff’s lectures and courses for free! Are Rand’s and Peikoff’s materials worth nothing? Compare how The Objective Standard (TOS) and Objective Standard Institute (OSI) operate. They charge for subscriptions and for courses—OSI has waiting lists for their paid courses.
ARI has disintegrated Leonard Peikoff’s courses by breaking them into individual lectures and placing them on YouTube for free. (Dr. Peikoff told me that he is extremely unhappy about it). I regard this as serious debasement.
And when John talks about “consumption of Rand’s and Peikoff’s courses [being] tripled in the last two years”—this is a cumulative statistic: each month’s hours are added to the next. That is inflated hype.
It is disappointing to me that ARI uses such misleading tactics to impress donors. It’s also disappointing that they cannot report and celebrate large numbers of students completing Leonard Peikoff’s courses—or news about new and successful Objectivists resulting from ARI programs—or increased sales of Ayn Rand’s books in the U.S. (Increased sales of Rand’s books overseas are due in part to organizations and activities funded by Prometheus Foundation.)
As I said in an earlier post, “To have a vibrant, successful Ayn Rand Institute, major contributors and senior Objectivists need to step up with courage and conviction and insist upon changes. ARI must have a new, meaningful strategy.” John’s letter is more evidence of this.
I welcome your questions and comments.