"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, November 13, 2009

Keeping America Great with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet recently sat down at Columbia University with a crowd of MBA students for a program called, "Keeping America Great." An unofficial transcript is available here, but I wanted to point readers to one very important question posed by a member of the audience:

QUESTION: My name is Brian, first-year student here at Columbia. And I run a business school right now and seems to me a lot of the villains in the full credit crisis were business school graduates. To what extent do you guys think that business schools like Columbia were in some sense responsible for what transpired in the credit crisis?

GATES: Well, remember that capitalism has been massively successful, you know. Standard of life, medicine, all these great things have come out of it. And business schools play a role in training people to think about value, leadership. There's wonderful skills that are taught at great schools like this. And so the fact that, yes, we have had a crisis and we have dropped back, maybe we wasted two or three years net because of the things that were done wrong, that doesn't say that business schools aren't performing a great service, you know. The case studies of this crisis will be taught here for decades to come. And so at least we'll get that benefit out of the pain we went through...

"Capitalism has been massively successful," Gates says, dodging the question almost entirely. The late Gerald Bracey suggested we look at what is (and isn't) taught at America's B-schools to understand the financial conundrum we've gotten into. Looks like Bill missed that all-too-important Bracey memo.
The supercapitalists minds of Bill and Warren, however, fail to acknowledge that not all forms of capitalism are the same. Consider this excerpt from a recent DemocracyNow! interview of John Perkins, a self-described former "economic hit-man" and author of a number of highly-recommended books:
But I think what’s—you know, what’s really important about all this is that in this period of time, since the 1970s, and really beginning very strongly in the 1980s, we’ve created what I consider a mutant, viral form of capitalism. Earlier on the program, you showed the statistics of 37 percent of the people in the survey not believing that capitalism is working. I don’t think the failure is capitalism. I think it’s the specific kind of capitalism that we’ve developed in the last thirty or forty years, particularly beginning with the time of Reagan and Milton Friedman’s economic theories, which stress that the only goal of business is to maximize profit, regardless of the social and environmental costs, and not to regulate businesses at all—regulation is bad, all forms—and to privatize everything, so that everything is run by private business. And this mutant form of capitalism, which I think is really a predatory form of capitalism, has created an extremely unstable, unsustainable, unjust and very, very dangerous world.
But, in the minds of supercapitalists like Gates and Buffet, capitalism only exists in one form, and that one form is the best we can do. You wont find nuanced thought about capitalism coming from two men with a combined net worth approaching $100 billion. For that much money you can be awfully blind about the issues facing real people and no one will raise to challenge your beliefs - particularly not at Ivy League B schools.


  1. I haven't followed Warren Buffett's viewpoints on education overall, but I'm going to make a ringing statement in his (surprise!) defense for something else.

    Buffett was advising our failed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger here in California on economic policy, early in Ah-nold's term, and made strong public statement against Prop. 13. Prop. 13, for you younger folks who don't know, is the 1978 ballot measure that has devastated California and that also started the anti-tax movement nationwide. It really came down to a huge philosophical viewpoint: a "we're in this together" philosophy vs. "you're on your own."

    Mostly those people are just shortsighted (might I even say stupid) -- they believe they don't need government services and are too dumb to understand that, oh, roads, bridges, streetlights, Medicare, etc. are government services. Some I guess sincerely believe in the "everyone out for himself" philosophy. But anyway, Buffett advised in the strongest of terms that our state turn away from that. After that, Ah-nold started dismissing his advice. That does make Warren Buffett a supporter of public education (as he was obviously taking the position that we need to tax the wealthy in order to maintain a civilized society), and in my book that earns him my full respect.

  2. The capitalist economy of the United States no longer has the capacity to maintain a public school system. Of course Bill Gates and Warren Buffet still believe in capitalism but they are essentially hapless business celebrities, just an intellectual half-step above Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell.

    Beyond the destruction of the public schools, public health care (Medicare/Medicaid) and a public program of old-age and survivors insurance (Social Security) will be sacrificed in the coming year for the sake of the US military's war making capacity and our Chinese creditors. Today the Obama Administration floated the idea of a federal spending freeze or even a 5% reduction in 2010 in pursuit of that ruling class policy decision.

    Only one question looms before the people of the US now. Will we have public schools, national health care, and Social Security or will we have capitalism? Can't have both anymore.

  3. Hi,
    It is really a nice debate, i must agree with both ideas, nothing is perfect so we have to sacrifice somethig to get other thing, so unfortunately capitalism gave hundreds of good things but in the process yes public school systems suffered.

    Hope for best, and do try for the best.