Capitalism on campus

A struggling George Bailey once received a fat cigar and a generous job offer from banker Henry Potter. Potter pointed out that it would be in George’s self-interest to accept it and forget about that old savings and loan and all the little people it served. George Bailey turned down that deal.

Western Carolina University and other financially struggling universities have received similar offers from the BB&T Foundation. The catch is that they have to indoctrinate students in Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy and teach Atlas Shrugged.

Mountain Xpress’ report on the BB&T grant to WCU [“Capitalism on Campus,” Dec. 23] quotes College of Business Dean Ronald Johnson saying, “As a businessperson, you have to have a set of principles—or a philosophy. … Those people who do not have a firm foundation … are not likely to be very successful.” Also, “The base of my philosophy is wealth maximization.”

Wealth maximization, I take it, has always been the primary philosophical foundation of business ethics—pretty thin gruel—and the foundation for both Duke University’s recent Fuqua School of Business cheating scandal (among others elsewhere) and the scruple-free atmosphere behind the subprime gold rush.

Pursuit of—if not full realization of—the “pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism” that Rand advocated has brought the world economic system to its knees. Rational self-interest wasn’t supposed to be so irrational. Nonetheless, free marketers have redoubled efforts to resuscitate their philosophy, including offering colleges lucrative grants to teach it.

Economic meltdown is not a failure of their philosophy—no. Washington just didn’t do laissez-faire right. When tax cuts failed to produce promised jobs, it just meant we needed more tax cuts. Or as the blogger Digby observed, “Conservatism never fails. It is only failed.”

The Detroit bailout debate revealed that, for many opponents, the loss of millions of jobs was acceptable collateral damage in propping up their economic philosophy: Government intervention would be a deplorable violation of free-market principles.

It is symptomatic of the Gilded Age that economic principles trump all others. Most people learn better in Sunday school.

In the wake of business-school scandals, the Enron/WorldCom/Tyco scandals and Wall Street’s sub-prime/derivatives scandal: If parents and churches don’t, somebody should teach remedial ethics. But is it acceptable for our shrugging Atlases to bribe colleges to teach theirs?

— Tom Sullivan


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14 thoughts on “Capitalism on campus

  1. Barry Summers

    It’s still worth noting that the folks pushing Ayn Rand on NC schools, BB&T;, just undermined her theories by applying for and accepting $3.1 Billion in taxpayer-funded bailout money. They even cam right out & said they won’t use it for lending; they are spending it on increased shareholder dividends and acquisitions. So much for the “free market”.

    Question: How much federal government money will now be going to buy copies of “Atlas Shrugged” to force into the hands of freshman business students?

  2. Piffy!

    I still dont see why anyone should care as far as students being taught Ayn Rand.

    Are we really afraid that Western Students are too dumb to see through the massive holes in Rand’s “theories”?

    Let em push it.

  3. Barry Summers

    I’ve never said that students shouldn’t be taught Ayn Rand. I have a problem with a school having to construct an entire curriculum around it, which is what we’re talking about. The half mil or million dollars will go towards a substantial shift of their business education curriculum. That’s not just one class we’re talking about. Tie that in with all the other schools across the Southeast BB&T;is dangling this money in front of, and it’s a pretty substantial effect. And all guided by a big bank that now thrives on government money. Hypocrisy.

  4. dave

    Sure, total hypocrisy. So what?

    No one with an IQ above 50 would be fooled into thinking “Atlas Shrugged” is any more factual than “lord of the rings”.

  5. The Myth that Laissez Faire Is Responsible for Our Financial Crisis
    by George Reisman

    “Their fear and hatred of economic freedom and laissez-faire capitalism, and their need to be able to denounce it as the cause of all economic evil, is so great that they pretend to themselves and to their audiences that it exists in today’s world, in which it clearly does not exist, even remotely…”

  6. Piffy!

    ““Their worship and deification of economic freedom and laissez-faire capitalism, and their need to be able to promote it as the cause of all economic good, is so great that they pretend to themselves and to their audiences that it is a relevant topic in today’s world, even though it clearly does not exist, even remotely…””


  7. Barry Summers

    ““Their worship and deification of economic freedom and laissez-faire capitalism, and their need to be able to promote it as the cause of all economic good, is so great that they pretend to themselves and to their audiences that it is a relevant topic in today’s world, even though it clearly does not exist, even remotely…””

    Wow, I wish I had said that.

  8. rationalinfidel

    “Washington just didn’t do laissez-faire right.”

    Does Tom Sullivan have an inkling of the contradiction in such a statement? Hey, Tom. Washington can’t “do” laissez-faire. They have to stop “do(ing)” for it to be laissez-faire.

    The free market didn’t recently fail. It was murdered a long time ago.

    It was murdered by looters and second-handers, just like you, who (fail to) think as you do.

  9. rationalinfidel

    While failing to blame government interference for the recent financial meltdown, Sullivan instead blames free-market principles. What are those evil principles?

    First, have the freedom to act without engaging in force or fraud.

    Second, reap the rewards or losses that follow.

    An honest man taking an honest look at the financial markets, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal Reserve Board, could not possibly believe that they represent free-market principles.

    But then Sullivan has to go further in revealing his intellectual dishonesty. He preaches, “If parents and churches don’t, somebody should teach remedial ethics.”

    Okay, Tom, when did it become moral for you to have your agents steal from me in order to float General Motors and its corrupt bedfellow, the UAW?

    And, to borrow from Bastiat, when is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?

    You don’t know the first thing about ethics.

  10. Becky

    Ahahahaaaa government interference caused the meltdown? Are you serious? Do you pipe Limbaugh directly into your brain? Astonishing! Wall street (one) engaged in rash and risky gambling with other people’s money (derivatives), and (two) they did NOT reap the losses as they should, WE did. Those guys took home their full salaries while their companies went bankrupt. Government interference caused the meltdown, that is rich! Good one!

  11. Becky write: “they did NOT reap the losses as they should, WE did.”

    Notice that Becky just refutes her own argument.

    If in fact we had laissez-faire Capitalism in this country, which we do not, failed businesses reap losses, not us. With Interventionism, which we do have, failed businesses are bailed out by the government and we reap the loss.

  12. Piffy!

    Tim, unfortunately, what most of us have learned, is that those who speak of the “free market” are never interested in holding to that principal when things go bad. the current “bailouts” obviously being a strong point of contention.

    Find me a “laissez-fair” capitalist who hasnt taken government funds, and we might be able to have a conversation. But there arent any, so you are merely left arguing a theoretical point that has no bearing on reality.

  13. rationalinfidel

    “…those who speak of the “free market” are never interested in holding to that principal when things go bad.”

    Well I am. People who borrowed and didn’t make payments should lose their homes. Lenders who made risky loans should suffer those consequences alone. Managers who took on undue risk and jeopardized their businesses should answer to their boards. The Federal Reserve Board should not manipulate rates to below market values and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae should not try to put everyone in their own home despite their ability to afford one.

    Each of us, individually, should reap the rewards and suffer the consequences of our actions. The same is true for groups of individuals (companies).

    It is government, buoyed by the (lack of) thinking that is represented here by barry, dave, Becky and you, that stops this from happening.

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