Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Free Enterprisizm

Some time in the seventies there was a resurgence of capitalism and the free market as religious doctrine. In this context "religious doctrine" means dogma that cannot be questioned. Health care problems? Free enterprise! Political corruption? Free enterprise! There was no problem great or small that the private sector could not correct if government would only get out of the way.

Most human actions are in a continuous conflict between altruism and self interest. Human beings are the most cooperative animals on the planet (and I include ants and bees in that comparison) but that cooperation is always under tension. Private enterprise stands towards the self interest side of the human condition. Not all the way-- no company can operate without cooperation. Government stands more in the direction towards altruism. Again, not all the way: no institution can operate on purely altruistic motivations. My point is civilization creates and is created by this tension.

Consequently, pushing the balance too far in either direction destabilizes the system and makes it hard for everybody. A completely self centered society that doesn't provide some safety net for the poor creates a crime and disease breeding ground that ultimately comes back to haunt them. A completely government run system removes incentive for people to cooperate and brings about its own ruin.

Balance. Always balance.

Humans tend to follow a model that seems to be a cross between chimp and gorilla. We raise our children until the point they can leave the family group. Both men and women leave the group and find other associations. In the US, this often involves some sort of higher education during which the juvenile humans experiment with different opportunities before finding their niche. Since we are so much more intelligent than our great ape cousins, we have many more opportunities to develop or exploit.

One of the developmental problems for humans is to keep our juveniles alive and relatively undamaged when they go through this phase. Chimps, gorillas and baboons all go through a wandering phase before they light but many of the die in the process. We tend to find that distasteful. So we create a series of playgrounds of increasing difficulty and danger to train our young until they can compete in the adult world successfully. They are our bloodline, after all. It makes sense to insure their ultimate reproductive success as best we can.

Hence, college.

Here is where our young go to experiment. They should try all sorts of new things: liberalism. Conservatism. Sex. Drugs. Rock and Roll. (Keep it to beer, don't drive, use a condom and for God's sake don't put any pictures up on the internet. Trust me on this.) They should also get some sort of life skills here as well-- which, regardless of the propaganda, they pretty much do. I work with a lot of young people out of college and at least in my field (biology and s/w engineering) they are coming out better skilled than I did.

Again, back in the sixties and seventies, colleges were the bedrock of experimenting. We were going to change the world. We scared everybody.

Ha. Look at me. I live in the burbs and work for a defense institution. I sure turned out to be dangerous.

My point here is that the experimentation of juveniles is supposed to be wacky and out there. It's supposed to be a challenge to the previous generation-- that's how change occurs. We force our kids to hold on to our virtues and points of view. If our virtues are good and our points of view valid, they'll back to them on their own. (Hm. Isn't that sort of free enterprise?)

Enter the Koch family.

The Koch brothers fund the Koch Family Foundations, primarily known for their support for conservative and libertarian causes. The Koch family is free to fund any charity that will take their money but I don't think it's a good idea for them to strangle universities. (Opinionated analysis here. Original article here.)

A quick summary: One of the Koch foundations has given 1.5 million to Florida State University and gotten overseer status on hiring. They want FSU to only hire people that agree with Charles Koch.

We don't tend to like helicopter parents. Why should we side with helicopter philanthropists? Because money talks. And, with the FSU economics department, it doesn't take very much.

Human change is mostly generational and, I suspect, this current infatuation with libertarian economics fueled by industrialists will ebb as well. Carnegie funded libraries and there are a lot of libraries that still exist because of him. But they're no longer funded by Carnegie. They're funded by government dollars.

It's the style for the last few decades to attempt to restrict juvenile experimentation: Oral Roberts University and its ilk. Koch is breaking new ground in attempting to control a publically funded university department.

Koch's department will probably become a breeding ground for foaming libertarian fundamentalists that will continue to shout that government can do no good--ever--private enterprise can do no wrong-- ever. (The occasional (translated: institutionalized) bad apples are really good apples misrepresented by the leftists media.) It will give a boost to the youth membership modern version of the Know Nothing Party, the Tea Party, which utterly hates experimentation.

For a couple of generations juvenile experimentation will ebb. We'll get a couple of crops of stupid graduates-- you don't learn if you don't experiment. America will suffer a bit.

But the rest of the world is less risk averse. There is unrest in the college campuses in the middle east. China is investing enormously in R&D (as opposed to the US which is cutting it) and much of that R&D is going to colleges. Inevitably, well funded campuses encourage creative thinking so we'll see some conflict coming.

Like weeds growing up through the sidewalk, juvenile experimentation marches on.

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