Education As Business

 In the spirit of self-promotion, which is all the rage these days,  I post here a piece that will appear in my upcoming book. It is a post from a few years back which develops the theme suggested in the rather cryptic note I posted recently after learning that the University of Wisconsin offered graduate degrees in glass blowing! There is no doubt whatever but that higher education has lost its sense of direction and the reference in this post to the book by Jerry Selingo makes that crystal clear (sorry).

Jeffrey Selingo, the editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, has written a book titled College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means To Students. In his book he says, flatly, that “American higher education is broken” and lays to rest any faint hopes people like me have that the creature will somehow take on new life and make possible the education of generations to come. The creature has turned into big business and, like all businesses, it will adapt to changing circumstances and the demands of its clientele — or perish. As one of the people Selingo interviews remarks, “In other industries, those who don’t innovate go out of business. . . Higher education shouldn’t be any different.” In a word, education is business and, like so many institutions in this country, including the Church, it has adopted the business model and is all about making a profit — not educating young minds. And in order to do that higher education will have to become whatever its prospective buyers want it to be, like Walmart. Selingo is not in the least sanguine about the current state of things; he recognizes the importance of the liberal arts to the students themselves who must acquire the skills of communication and thought to succeed in any enterprise whatever.  In a particularly telling passage he expresses his dismay:

“More than ever, American colleges and universities seem to be in every business but education. They are in the entertainment business, the housing business, the restaurant business, the recreation business, and, on some campuses, they operate what are essentially professional sports franchises. As colleges have grown more corporate in the past decade, they have started acting like Fortune 500 companies. Administrative salaries have ballooned, and members of boards of trustees are chosen for their corporate ties, not for their knowledge of higher education. Colleges now view students as customers and market their degree programs as products.”

As things now stand, it’s a booming business. There has been “an almost insatiable demand for college credentials.” And that is what education is now all about: credentials. Students approach colleges and universities in order to get a tailor-made program that will prepare them for the careers they hope to pursue for the rest of their lives. They refuse to buy off the rack: they want their suits made-to-fit. This is, after all, the age of entitlement. And the colleges are adept at meeting those demands, instituting 300 new majors in 2010 alone — added to the 1,400 already extant — to make sure they can attract and hold the growing demand and give the kiddies what they want.

Gone are the days when folks like Robert Hutchins dreamed that colleges should be beacons rather than mirrors. They are mirrors, pure and simple. If they have not completely jettisoned the basic core requirement in the liberal arts — which used to be what higher education was all about — they have pared it down to a series of electives in a smattering of academic disciplines that guarantees the student very little knowledge about a range of unrelated subjects. This hardly passes muster as education in which the young are liberated from narrowness of vision and the short-sighted view of the world we associate with business where it is all about profits. Despite the fact that these students have no idea what they  ought to know in order to propel them into a changing world and that they are practically guaranteed to change their career objectives several times before they are forty, they plunge ahead into a college that feels comfortable and take the courses that the brochures and marketing professionals hired by the colleges have assured them will guarantee them success and happiness here and now, and forevermore.  Please note, the message is all about “information,” and, as Selingo points out, there is very little talk about how to process that information — i.e., how to think. This oversight is reflected in the results of the Collegiate Learning Assessment test given to currently enrolled upperclassmen in which over the years, especially, students who major in the more popular fields, such as, education, sports science, social work, and business tend to score low and follow-up research indicates that they are among the least successful college graduates — “three times more likely to be living at home with their parents, more likely to have run up credit card bills, and less likely to read the newspapers or discuss politics.” But, hey, caveat emptor.

The effects of the changes are widespread. For one thing, students “have come to regard their professors as service providers, just like a cashier at the supermarket or a waiter in a restaurant. . . . who must constantly innovate to serve students better, servicing students’ curiosity and their desire to apply knowledge to create impact.” This has resulted in a “major power-shift” in the classroom in which the students call the shots and evaluate their professors in the social media — hard graders scoring low. Selingo recounts a case in which an elderly biology professor who was giving low grades to his students was summarily removed from his classroom, in mid-semester, and replaced by another, younger professor who immediately boosted the grades of all students remaining in the class by 25% (many had already dropped out). After all, we don’t want to displease our customers: they might take their business elsewhere. And we wonder how grade inflation became rampant in the colleges and universities!

I have always felt as though I was on the bow of a huge ocean liner pissing into the wind as the ship heads blindly and very erratically into the unknown. I have this fear that the captain learned his trade online and hasn’t the slightest idea how to captain an actual ship — how to manoeuver in the fog or avoid icebergs. I have grown hoarse over the years trying to fight the inevitable — and I have known all along it was inevitable. And despite the groups like the American Council of Trustees and Alumni who have joined me on the bow of the ship trying to insist that colleges hang onto at least a semblance of a core, liberal education in the midst of handing out easy credits for whatever happens to be the day’s most popular fad, it seems clear that the future of education has been determined. From the perspective of the colleges and universities, the students are customers, they are not young people who need to be put in possession of their minds. In fact, their minds pretty much belong to the corporations that have molded them and who now own the colleges and universities and influence what students will learn in order to become obedient followers of the corporate piper in years to come.

 

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The Eighth Circle

“Either the United States will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States”

(William DuBois)

As last year started to draw to a close — and what a year it was — my mind turned to self-scrutiny and it occurred to me that a confession of sorts is in order. As one who has spent his entire adult life attempting to put young people in possession of their own minds (and free them from the clutches of others, myself included), it occurred to me that what we are doing in higher education is a bit fraudulent. This put me in mind of Dante whose extraordinary Inferno deals with those of us who are guilty of fraud. I speak of the eighth circle of Hell.

There are ten levels in the eighth circle, the so-called “malebolges.” In the sixth of those ten levels — all worked out as if by magic with Dante’s poetic eye on medieval dogma and the wisdom of Aristotle — we find those who are the hypocrites, those who have been duplicitous, leading others to follow the wrong path. As the excellent translator, Ciardi, says in his introduction to this Canto in the Inferno,

“Here the hypocrites weighed down by the great leaden robes, walk eternally round and round a narrow track. The robes are brilliantly guided on the outside and are shaped like a monk’s habit, for the hypocrite’s outward appearance shines brightly and passes for holiness, but under that show lies the terrible weight of his deceit which his soul must bear through all eternity.”

In Dante’s own words, which we can feel in spite of the fact that they are translated for us:

“All wore great cloaks cut to as ample a size

as those worn by the Benedictines at Cluny.

The enormous hoods were drawn over their eyes.

 

“The outside is all dazzle, golden and fair;

the inside, lead, so heavy that Frederick’s capes,

compared to these, would seem as light as air.

 

“O weary mantle for eternity!

We turned to the left again along their course,

listening to their moans of misery.”

Why all the fuss? And why charge myself and my fellow “professors” with hypocrisy? Because there is hypocrisy in the willingness of those of us in “higher” education to say one thing and do quite another. We promise those who pay their tuition that they will be educated. The evidence suggests that this is simply not happening. The students who attend college go away thousands of dollars in debt but little affected by their four years — except, perhaps, having learned how to binge-drink and party hearty. And, perhaps, one or two have picked up a bit of knowledge along the way. So many slip between the cracks. So many go away unchanged in important ways by what has occurred.

The problem is that education has become a business and like any business the only measure of success is the “bottom line.” And the bottom line reveals that higher education, so-called, is taking the undergraduates for an expensive ride and not getting the job done. Students are charged high tuition fees and are promised an education– and, at best, they get job training or, perhaps, an occasional glimpse into a world not of their liking, a world of ideas and wisdom that demands of them more effort than they are willing to put out — or, indeed, are used to putting out — and little assurance of employment after graduation.

There are notable exceptions, of course. There are a few colleges, mostly small ones, that stress the “liberal arts,” that do attempt and at times succeed in educating their charges. But on the whole the entire education edifice rests on sand. The promises have become mere words on paper, they mean little and they smell of gaseous air. Instead of committing themselves to the education of those that come, hat in hand, to be educated they instead provide them with emotional counseling, a country-club atmosphere, and a smattering of tips designed to help them get a job after graduation — whether it fulfills them as human beings or not.

In a word, the colleges care not a tittle about the students and their real needs. Instead, they deliver what the students want and the faculty are willing to deliver — as long as it doesn’t take them away from their own personal and professional diversions — and they get a decent paycheck.  Surely, this sort of behavior is precisely what Dante was talking about and what those who promise one thing and deliver quite another are deserving of in the end.

(My tongue is only part-way in my cheek. My concern here is serious and the problem deserving of serious thought — as is the failure of education on the whole.)

The Short Term

Some years back my wife and I attended an informational meeting in a nearby town where the plan was to build a new coal-burning plant to generate electricity. There were many questions following the presentation — which was clearly designed to let people think they were a part of the decision-making process (which we all pretty well knew we weren’t). At one point a farmer asked what would happen to the large area where the plant was to be built after it had run its course and was shut down. The representative from the company smiled paternalistically and noted that his models didn’t allow them to predict what would happen more than, perhaps, five years down the line.

At that point the farmer rejoined that he didn’t need models; if they didn’t build the plant he knew exactly what would become of the land, to wit, it would still be producing corn and beans! He received a well-deserved round of applause and the representative from the company that was proposing the plant was silenced. Silencing a bullshitter is a good thing, which is why the farmer received well-deserved applause. There needs to be more of that sort of thing.

In any event, I have been going on for many years about the value of a broad, liberal education to teach young people how to use their minds rather than to simply learn a trade — or what we now call a “profession.” I noted in a recent post that data show that in the long term young people will make more money if they do at least combine liberal courses in the arts and sciences along with their more “practical” major. I also noted a recent study that shows that increasingly parents encourage their kids to take practical courses of study and avoid the liberal arts as a waste of money. In a word, their parents are focused on the short term.

One of the comments I received was from a mother of several children who is rightly concerned about the high costs of higher education — now leaving young people with huge debts after graduation. They need to find a job and start paying back the loans they required to attend college in the first place. No question. I am not blind to the fact that many colleges now cost more than most families can afford and that debt is the name of the game. But my point in that post was that short-term thinking has become pervasive in this country and it has affected the way we think about such things as education.

The worry about that first job after graduation is understandable, but the notion that one must take a course of study that promises immediate employment (if there is such a thing) ignores the fact that people change jobs several times before reaching their forties and in many cases they must return to college and be retrained for a new job. It also ignores the critical fact, noted above, that the students who take a broader approach to education — at least combining liberal courses with their narrow major field of interest — will make more money in the long run.

But that’s the point: we have lost sight of the “long run” because we have been convinced by the business world — the world of coal-burning plants that generate electricity — that we must focus on the short run. In the business world, of course, this is profit and loss.

But, as I noted previously, business has no business determining the paradigms for education at any level. Indeed, even in business focus on the short term is not always the wisest course of action. We all need to think about the long term effects of decisions we make today. This includes such things as concerns about global warming which is not so long-term as it was a few years ago, and, of course, education where the long term — the young person’s entire life — is at issue.

Machiavelli’s Relevance

I always enjoyed teaching a graduate course in business ethics which was required for the M.B.A. our university offered. It was usually filled with people who were “out there” in the “real” world working hard to better themselves; they were hoping the M.B.A. would give them a leg up. These were older, experienced students who drew on multiple experiences and were sure to have important and interesting things to say. One of the things I did each semester was to require that each student pick a book from a list, read and critique it, and present their results to the class as a whole. One of the books was Machiavelli’s The Prince. Strange choice, some would say. But, aside from the obvious parallels with today’s politics, the students were amazed at the relevance of that book to the world they were becoming increasingly familiar with, the world of business.

Accordingly, I thought it might be worth putting down here a few of the more pithy comments Machiavelli wrote and ask the reader whether or not he or she agrees that Machiavelli, like any great thinker, had things to say that are still pertinent today. First, a comment from Machiavelli’s Discourses on Titus Livius to set the tone:

“I believe it to be most true that it seldom happens that men rise from low condition to high rank without employing either force or fraud., unless that rank should be attained either by gift or inheritance.”

Now, from the more popular Prince:

“. . .there is such a great difference between the way we really live and the way we ought to live that the man who neglects the real to study the ideal will learn to accomplish his ruin, not his salvation. Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good.”

” . . .to be feared is much safer than to be loved. For it is a good general rule about men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, fearful of danger and greedy for gain.  . . . since men love at their own inclination but can be made to fear at the inclination of the prince, a shrewd prince will lay his foundations on what is under his own control, not on what is controlled by others.”

“. . .those princes have accomplished most who paid little heed to keeping their promises, but who knew how to manipulate the minds of men craftily. In the end they won out over those who tried to act honestly.”

“. . .you must be great liar and hypocrite. Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.”

“Nothing is more necessary than to seem to have . . .  virtue. Men in general judge more by the sense of sight than by the sense of touch, because everyone can see but few can test by feeling. Everyone sees what you seem to be, but few know what you really are . . .  I will venture to say that when you have [the virtues] and exercise them all the time, they are harmful to you; when you seem to have them, they are useful. It is good to appear merciful, truthful, humane, sincere, and religious; it is good to be so in reality. But you must keep your mind so disposed that, in case of need, you can turn to the exact contrary.”

“There are three sorts of brains: one understands on its own, another understands what others tell it, and the third understands neither itself nor other people. The first sort is superb, the second sort is very good, the third sort useless.”

Was Machiavelli serious, or was he being satirical? Scholars still disagree.

The Ed Biz

Quite a controversy surrounds the appointment recently of businessman Bruce Harreld, who has no academic background, to the presidency at the University of Iowa — one of the Midwest’s premier universities. The article from the DesMoines Register tells us, in part, that despite overwhelming opposition from the faculty and the university community at large,

. . . Harreld was named UI’s 21st president Thursday in a unanimous vote from the Iowa Board of Regents. In so doing, they chose a former business executive with no experience in university administration, whose resume lists as his present employer a company he has since acknowledged no longer exists.

Harreld has also admitted he’ll have a steep learning curve for the job, and that his “unusual background” will mean he’ll need a lot of teaching, coaching and mentoring from those who criticized him. It’s good he acknowledged that, and gracious to extend the olive branch. But considering he’ll earn $590,000, plus $200,000 annually in deferred compensation, on-the-job training shouldn’t be necessary.

The rather large salary is impressive, but it pales in contrast with that of the football coach, Kirk Ferentz who makes in excess of $4 million. His staff makes just under $3 million. And given Iowa’s place in the 14 member coalition called the “Big 10,” football is most important. But also given that education has become a business (at all levels) where success is measured in numbers, it doesn’t seem too great a stretch to appoint a man to the highest office at the university whose background features the selling of computers and chickens.

I have found in my own experience that an academic person doesn’t always make the best college president — since his or her job is to cuddle up to money and politicians and try to balance budgets. Academics aren’t trained to do that sort of thing. And we also happen to be generally introverted and ill-at-ease in large groups, making small talk with small minds. But there is a principle buried somewhere in this story and it has to do with the propriety of asking a man (or a woman) with no academic experience whatever and no degree higher than an MBA to run one of the nation’s largest universities which is supposed to be a “community of scholars.”

So what we have here is the question of honesty — admitting that education is really all about money — as over against the propriety of naming an inexperienced business man, no matter how successful he has been, to the presidency of the University of Iowa. In this case the waters are muddied a bit by the fact that this man’s knowledge of the University of Iowa came from his reading of Wikipedia, his resumé highlights his experience selling computers, Kraft Food,  and Boston Chicken and also “lists as his present employer a company he has since acknowledged no longer exists,” not to mention that his appointment was apparently promoted by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a friend of the new president. No wonder 98% of the faculty opposed his appointment — to no avail.

I’m all for honesty and admit right up front that it might make perfect sense to appoint a businessman to be president of a university. But to appoint one whose knowledge of the university is so scant, requiring, by his own admission, considerable effort on his part to learn what he needs to know — no matter how much money he is paid — seems a bit of a stretch. In any event, the best of luck to the University of Iowa and its new president. We’ll see  what happens when the chickens come home to roost. (Sorry).

Donald Trumps?

On the surface, Donald Trump’s candidacy for President of these United States seems like a page from Monty Python. It’s a joke, right? Perhaps not. At present, he’s the leading candidate in a parade of clowns who desperately want the Republican nomination so they can beat out, presumably, the dreaded Hillary Clinton. And it does seem like a parade of clowns, to be sure. But the biggest clown of all leads the parade and it raises the question: how is this possible?

In addition to the usual Republican objectives — elimination of needless government agencies like the E.P.A., promoting the military, reducing taxes, protecting the citizen’s constitutional right to carry concealed automatic weapons, opposing abortion and gay marriage, supporting major corporations, and the like  — there are a number of reasons why this man with the strange hair and arrogant air is popular with the electorate. To begin with, he has name-recognition, which all of the other candidates — perhaps excepting Jeb Bush — lack. He’s a TV personality and people know who he is, whether they like him, or not. “You’re fired!!”

Secondly, he is a successful business man. And this counts twice: (1) he’s a businessman and that rings true with a great many Americans, especially those who lean to the right, because so many think that the business way is the only way. But, also (2) he is successful in the only way Americans generally know how to measure success: he’s filthy rich. He’s not one of us, but he’s what so many of us aspire to. Like so many filthy rich people, he likes to tell us how he made it on his own and he holds the poor in great disdain for being lazy and unmotivated; and while this is off-putting for some, it is not for many of  those who lean to the political right and wish they had the Donald’s helicopter.

Third, he’s decisive and Americans like their leaders to be decisive, even if the decisions they make, and refuse to alter, are wrong-headed (like the war in Iraq, for example). They are not wishy-washy. Effeminate. They are not smarter than us; we can identify with them. We do not like those who change their minds should the evidence show that the decision they made yesterday is totally wrong today. Just think of George McGovern’s decision to drop Thomas Eagleton in mid-campaign and pick a new running-mate not so many years ago. We do not like indecisive people and admire those who stick by their guns, right or wrong.  [One wonders if this is a consequence of the fact that in a democracy, by design, decisions come slowly — sometimes not at all — and a great many people don’t understand this and want men of action (like Ollie North) even if those actions are terribly wrong. Is it possible that these people would be happier in a monarchy? Well, not to worry, we now have an oligarchy; monarchy may yet be in the cards — or at least a despotism.]

Fourth, Donald is a bigot and this appeals to a great many Americans who lean the same way — not only with respect to Mexicans, but anyone who seems the least bit foreign. After all, this is America and we have enough immigrants running around; it’s time to keep them out. Yeah, let’s finish Bush’s wall and keep the Mexicans out, at the very least. This may make some of Trump’s employees at his many golf courses fearful and nervous, but it warms the hearts of a great many of those who wield votes. After all, those immigrants take our jobs and we need to keep America for Americans. (Let’s ignore the fact that the real Americans were the indigenous people and they were killed off, pretty much, so we could pave over their land and build Disney Worlds.)

Finally, Trump is smooth and gives every appearance of knowing what he is talking about — even if he talks out of both sides of his mouth. He’s a true demagogue, and we seem drawn to the type. Since most people don’t listen anyway, they think they heard what they wanted to hear and that’s enough for them. In a word, this man is a clown, but he is leading the clown parade at the moment and he must be taken seriously, difficult though that might be for most of us.

Black Friday

[I am reblogging this post from a couple of years ago because the problem persists. In fact, it seems to be getting worse with stores now opening on Thanksgiving Day and employees being told simply to shut up.]

The headline read “Woman pepper sprays other Black Friday shoppers.” In an effort to have a better chance to get at the cheap electronics Walmart was using as a lure to get shoppers jump-started this holiday season, a woman pepper sprayed about 20 customers who were in her way. Except for the talking heads on Fox News who think this is perfectly acceptable behavior, everyone is in a dither —  but for many of the wrong reasons. Out-of-control shoppers are a worry, but the whole marketing ploy that increasingly encroaches on Thanksgiving is the larger problem.

We do live in a commodified culture, as Robert Heilbroner told us many years ago, but our values are clearly out of kilter when money and the things that money can buy become the main focus of an entire nation. If we take a commodified culture preoccupied with possession of things, combine it with an immense advertising machine that works buyers into a frenzy prior to Thanksgiving, it is no wonder that things like this happen. We shouldn’t be surprised; clearly things are out of focus when money becomes the center of one’s life. Citizens who bother to go to the voting booth any more are there to turn around a weak economy. That has been the rule for some time now: vote out the bastards who are taking money out of my pocket. The real issues, like spread of nuclear weapons and the damage we are doing to the environment in our tizzy to raise our already obscenely high standard of living, are largely ignored.

Christmas should, of course, be a time for reflection and thought about others. In this country, and other “developed” countries around the world, it has become a time to get that 30% of the yearly profits that keep the engines of commerce running. It is understandable, since business has become the cornerstone of our culture. But is it necessary to point out that the ideals of business are antithetical to the ideals of the one whose birth we celebrate next month? The fact that a woman in California would pepper-spray her way to the cheap electronics in Walmart is simply a sign of the times and a clear indication that we need to rethink our priorities.

Knees And Elbows

Yesterday the Washington Redskin’s gifted young quarterback, Robert Griffin III, underwent surgery on his injured right knee. He already had reconstructive surgery on that knee in 2009 and earlier this season he re-injured the knee and was held out of the next game. But, despite a noticeable limp, he started the following game because it was determined that he could play and he is a talented player and an inspiring leader on a team that has struggled in recent years. Besides, the Redskins wanted to make sure they made the playoffs. And that, as they say, is the “bottom line.”

The Redskins did make the playoffs, of course, and R. G. III (as they call him) started the first playoff game for the Redskins in years. The fans went wild as the ‘Skins started the game with a bang and led by two touchdowns early in the game. Then their opponents, the Seattle Seahawks, started to come back and, surprise, surprise, Griffin caught a cleat in the turf, twisted his knee and went to the ground in pain. The prognosis is not good. Surgeons who examined the knee at the time said they could not “guarantee” a full recovery.

The fact that the Redskins went on to lose the game simply underlines the stupidity of the decision to risk the future of a gifted athlete –not to mention the future of the franchise (as they like to call it). This is a sorry example of short-term thinking which infects this culture like a virus. It permeates virtually every facet of our behavior and I tend to think it comes from a business mentality that puts a premium on profits in the short term and tends to ignore the long term — even if reliable data portend problems down the road — like global warming, for example.

One might think that the example of another professional athlete from Washington, the pitcher Stephen Strasburg, provides a counter-example to short-term thinking. The managers of the Nationals decided last season to hold Strasburg out of the lineup going into the playoffs because he was coming back from Tommy John surgery and they wanted to make sure he didn’t strain his elbow and ruin his future with the team. They had been counting his pitches throughout the season and he had reached his limit.

I applaud this and did so at the time. It struck me as a rare example of concern for an athlete’s future at the risk of losing some baseball games. But the stuff that hit the fan after the decision, outrage from fans who were convinced that without Strasburg pitching the Nationals had no chance to make the World Series, confirms my claim that short-term thinking is the name of the game in the culture at large. The decision to hold out Strasburg was clearly the correct decision, regardless of the outcome of the games — and we need to bear in mind that these are games after all. And the decision to start Robert Griffin III in the football game against Seattle may come back to haunt the Washington Redskins who have placed a lot of hope and money on the young man’s shoulders but who may have let greed cloud their minds. Did I mention that there is a great deal of money involved in winning playoff games?

A New Business Model

In a most interesting article on the Web from the British publication “The Economist” the author advocates the adoption of a new paradigm for business schools offering an MBA. The author is convinced that the time has come for a broader, more enveloping degree that goes beyond the narrow business model to help students gain a wider perspective. Presumably this will allow the graduates to understand the interrelatedness of business with the rest of the world. The author also hopes a new approach will help graduates adopt a more “humble” approach to business — in place of the “know-it-all” approach he insists is common today. We are told that

In this humility-driven vision of leadership, business schools need to shift their centre of gravity away from economics, finance and dreams of individual fortune. We need to teach future leaders to reflect and critique—that there are alternatives to theories that they accept, without question, because they speak to their self-interest.

To do this, business schools need to challenge their own orthodoxy—a crude Darwinian view of business and society rooted in the survival of the fittest. They need to focus on the social consequences of their actions and accept responsibility for the business excesses of recent years.  What is required is a narrative of common interest to combat the mantra of selfishness; one that appeals to the sense that leadership is for all not for the few.

I found this article most interesting especially since I recently wrote that those advocating a narrow career choice for college undergraduates were mistaken and that what our young people need is a broader and more inclusive education that will allow them to adapt to a changing world. As Robert Hutchins once said: the only thing we know for certain is that everything will change. The article in “The Economist” seems to agree; it promotes the outrageous idea that “business schools might recruit graduates from other disciplines such as the arts [and] humanities…”

Good grief! Are we finally hearing from within the bosom of business a cry for a more humane, more reflective and inclusive, and even more “humble,” approach to learning business skills, one that involves critical thinking and a concern for the moral implications of actions that are never taken in a vacuum? In a word, are we hearing a plea for a liberal education from people who have come to realize what Socrates knew thousands of years ago — that the unexamined life is not worth living? It seems hardly possible.

But if we listen very carefully we do hear every now and again from corporate moguls that the people they are hiring can’t comprehend what they read, write a coherent memo, speak intelligently in groups, or imagine the consequences of the actions they propose. It is a faint voice because for the most part corporations really want people who will do what they are told to do and a person who goes into business after an undergraduate preparation in the “arts and humanities,” is likely to question whether the end really does justify the means and the bosses don’t want that.

But the appeal to business schools to infuse a more “humble” approach to business so their graduates won’t march forth into the real word convinced they have all the answers and know everything that needs to be known, that they consider “alternatives to the theories they accept,” is not only refreshing, it is downright sensible. The question is whether anyone will listen.

Trickle-Down Economics and Other B.S.

[You’ve probably seen the photograph. It shows Ronald Reagan with a group of his associates in their Armani suits, holding drinks in their hands and doubled over in laughter. The word “Reaganomics” appears below the photo and below that the caption “We told them the wealth would trickle down.”]

Candidate Romney has proposed a tax plan that would continue and even expand the current tax breaks for the infamous 1% and increase taxes on the rest of us. The plan, which is phase two of Reaganomics and the equally infamous “trickle-down” theory, is designed to encourage the wealthy to invest their money and thereby create more jobs for those currently unemployed, thus enabling them to carry the tax burden which the wealthy prefer to transfer to others. In case we didn’t know that this is bogus economics, a recent story reveals that

The 2012 Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America, from American Express Publishing and Harrison Group, finds that One Percenters are hoarding three times as much cash as they were two years ago. Their savings rate soared to 34 percent in the second quarter of 2012, up from 12 percent in 2007.

I couldn’t possibly improve on the careful and detailed analysis my blog-buddy did on the idiocy of Mitt Romney’s tax plan which pleases no one this side of the Tea Party (which may help explain Romney’s recent choice of a running mate).  But unless I am mistaken what this means is that the poor will get poorer and the rich will be more careful to protect their already obscene amounts of spare cash. We have already seen the gap between the rich and the poor widen annually since the Reagan presidency as the rich continue to hide behind their tax breaks and subsidies and the poor continue to struggle to put food on the table. The notion that the rich will expand their companies, invest, and create jobs is tissue paper-thin: it is a myth exploded by downsizing and outsourcing — and information like that in the article quoted above. Indeed, there are a number of myths out there in this election year — some coming at us from the right and others coming at us from the left. We must be on guard. But above all, we must think through all the empty promises and vapid bromides to the real truth that lies hidden beneath — if there is any.

Anyone who tells us that he has a “secret plan” to restore health to the economy should be suspect. We should want to know the details; we should demand to know the details. Otherwise we are buying a pig in a poke. And anyone who tells us that the current tax breaks for the wealthy are a good thing, that the very rich should not pay their fair share of the tax burden, is shooting the bull. I have written about the need to rethink our take on taxes, how they do a great deal of good and should not be seen as simply a burden. But however we perceive taxes, we should all be asked to pay them, the rich as well as the not-so-rich.

In the end, the unperceived problem here is that the middle class, on whom this country has come to depend for its economic stability, is rapidly disappearing in the widening gap between the very rich and the growing number of poor. So more than ever before, we need to be aware of the wind-eggs that are afloat, especially in this election year. That is to say, we should read what is printed and listen to what is spoken with a considerable amount of skepticism: the people running for public office are coached to tell us what their marketing experts have told them we want to hear. It’s not about telling us the truth; it’s about getting elected — that’s pretty much all they know how to do.