Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

October 28, 2008

BB&T touts Ayn Rand but takes taxpayer cash

BB&T should practice what it preaches.

The bank, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., has donated tens of millions of dollars to colleges to support the moral study of capitalism.

The gifts require that the schools require the reading of “Atlas Shrugged,” the Ayn Rand novel that champions free enterprise and portrays government as capitalism’s arch foe.

John Allison, BB&T’s CEO, says he discovered the novel as a college student and wants to give other students the opportunity to read it.

Yet, as reported by The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., BB&T will take $3.1 billion of the $700 billion the federal government is spending to bail out the financial industry, with the government in turn taking BB&T preferred stock.

What is truly startling is that, unlike the failing banks that triggered the government’s massive bailout, BB&T is healthy and says it might use the money to grow by buying other companies.

So, to quote the opening line from Atlas Shrugged that invokes the name of Rand’s capitalist hero and suggests the world’s problems are beyond understanding, “Who is John Galt?”

Or in the case of BB&T’s hypocritical acceptance of taxpayer dollars, who is John Allison?

Despite the millions of philanthropic dollars it has invested in helping college students see Ayn Rand’s vision of the threat government poses to free minds and markets, BB&T is taking $3.1 billion of precious taxpayer funds that could be better invested in tackling urgent social problems.

At this precarious moment in U.S. history, BB&T should remember in the marketplace the lessons it wants college students to learn in the classroom.


  • At 4:02 PM, Blogger Richard said…

    Quite a number of solvent banks were 'expected' to accept the handouts offered by Paulson et al. Several top bank CEOs were opposed to it when they first met with him. However, after several hours of discussion, they all capitulated. The exact details of the discussion have not, to my knowledge, been released.

    Suffice to say, it is clear that it was in Paulson's interest that insoluble banks NOT be the only ones to receive the handout. Were that done, it would single out the failing banks, plus it would be an admission that such handouts were not really necessary —because some banks had understood the free market well enough to make proper judgments.

    Furthermore, were Paulson to offer the bailout to only a few banks, the remaining banks would be evidence that the free market can work properly. That is an understanding the Administration certainly cannot afford to support, however indirectly. It would immediately suggest that their regulations could be circumvented to the betterment of the economy they are supposedly 'saving'.

    Your criticism of BB&T for accepting the hand out might be right if you knew what transpired at the Paulson meeting. But no one outside the meeting really knows how severe Paulson's threats were, implied or direct? I am sure they were pretty severe, and presented as legal government action.

    In another vein, why should BB&T, which pays millions in taxes every year, not avail itself of money that its competitors are certainly going to benefit from? Why should its less effective competitors get a 'leg up' that could place them at par with BB&T or even exceed BB&T competitively? For BB&T to refuse the handout would be for it to *give* the playing field to its competitors.

    No, BB&T did the exact right thing, for its customers and investors, by accepting the handout.

  • At 7:18 PM, Blogger Tenure said…


    There are people who are damn wrong and damn right. You're damn right, Richard.

    BB&T has every moral right to accept this money in the absurd situation of threats and gifts that the US gov. has set up.

  • At 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It would appear that the government "took" nothing. Rather, it bought stock in BB&T, as anyone can do on the open market (althought this may be some special deal). Where's the handout? It would appear wise to get the facts, before mischsracterizing the transaction.

  • At 6:41 AM, Blogger The Social Reformer said…

    I've been wondering how this economy is going to be affecting the nonprofit sector...we're going to have to get creative.

    Ruben Harris

  • At 9:48 AM, Blogger Richard said…

    Anonymous @9:47, thanks, I was taking Cohen's word on the matter.

    The idea of the government buying shares of a company on the market is disturbing. In such a situation the government could buy any company it wanted to control! That means it can use forcible taxation to obtain economic control over private enterprise. It is a back-door to complete Socialism (Communism)... government ownership of the means of production.

    Yet the *Republican* Bush Admin. has done exactly that as a "temporary measure", telling the banking institutions they can buy back the shares as they become more solvent.

    Thanks to the Bush Admin., this precedent has now been set. Another (huge) gremlin has leapt out of the "Pandora's Box of Statism" in America.

    In Canada a "temporary" Income Tax was deemed necessary to fund our military for WW1. There were furious arguments in Parliament as to whether the tax should be 1% or 0.5% (or some similar very low portions) of earnings.

    Income Tax is now a permanent institution, of course, with our tax freedom day occurring in July!!

  • At 9:50 AM, Blogger Richard said…

    tenure, you scared me for a moment, as I was expecting you were going to say I was "damn wrong"... In our culture anything non-Leftist is usually just damned, no deeper thought is considered necessary!



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