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The Region

Ayn Rand Institute to Move to Orange County

Think tanks: The laissez-faire researchers seek more room--and a friendlier philosophical environment--outside Marina del Rey.

June 07, 2002|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ayn Rand Institute, bastion of capitalist thinking and a champion of individual rights, is moving to Orange County as it looks for a more comfortable fit physically and philosophically.

Its beachfront office in Marina del Rey has become too cramped for its 29 staff members and proved too brutal a commute for its president and executive director, Yaron Brook.

So Brook will relocate the think tank to Irvine, which he believes is better suited to Rand's objectivist philosophy that favors small government and more private enterprise--and where there's room to double the center's space and work on increasing its $3-million budget.

"My sense of Irvine is that it's a safe, clean-cut environment where everything is new, ... the streets are wide open and clean, and the neighborhoods are close to shopping centers. It's just a nice place to live and raise my family," said Brook, who has commuted to work for two years from Tustin.

The move takes place June 30, when the institute's current lease expires.

The new two-story, 12,500-square-foot, glass building in a business complex on Alton Parkway suits the institute and Brook nicely.

So does Orange County's reputation for being pro-business and anti-big government, both espoused by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand.

The institute, funded by private and corporate donations, conducts social and political research and publishes papers promoting Rand's theories.

"We know Orange County is a little more politically conservative," Brook said. "But I don't think any geographic community is completely in sync with the philosophy of the Rand Institute. But we're working on it."

Rand preached that individuals, rather than the government, are fundamental to creating a well-functioning society.

A fervent atheist and capitalist, Rand believed that the highest goal for individuals is happiness and that the only way to attain it is through the use of reason, not religion or emotion.

In her books "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged," she promoted individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism.

"We've managed to upset Democrats, Republicans, the Green Party, liberals and conservatives. I mean, atheist capitalist--it doesn't get more radical than that," Brook said.

"But I think many in Orange County may share our economic ideas, but on religion and social policy, many will challenge us."

Leonard Peikoff, who founded the Rand Institute in 1985, has lived in Irvine for 10 years and said he supports the move.

"It's a good intellectual environment; it's more congenial," Peikoff said. "It's more conducive to a pro-capitalist philosophy down here in Orange County."

Some say the move indicates Orange County's coming of age.

"It's not surprising that we're headquarters to all manners of enterprises, including think tanks," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach).

The institute has often held opinions that run counter to popular sentiment. During last year's energy crisis, Brook blasted the state's call for energy conservation. The institute also lobbied in favor of Microsoft and Bill Gates in 1998.

"They're an institute engaged in research and public education. I'm happy they would find a home in Irvine," said Mayor Larry Agran.

"The fact that their philosophy is not my cup of tea isn't important. Irvine is home to a wide range of intellectuals, and so why shouldn't there be diversity of thought?"

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