Will Academia Teach Your Children How to Add Value to the World? - Vivek Kaul's Diary
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Will Academia Teach Your Children How to Add Value to the World?

May 25, 2016


BALTIMORE, Maryland - Readers reacted strongly to reports from the ranch.

Many have clearly gone over to the enemy's side - including some members of our own family.

More on the insurrection at the ranch tomorrow...

Gassy Hacks and Big Quacks

Today, we recall the 'commencement' at the end of four years at the University of Vermont.

The university itself is imposing and a little intimidating. The rest of the world works in warehouses or common office spaces. Academia labours in hallowed 'halls' and prestigious 'centers'.

People in the Main Street world work for profits...and are subject to market economics. The professoriate is above it all; no profit and loss statements...no profit motives or incentive bonuses...and (for those with 'tenure') no chance of getting fired, no matter how incompetent, irrelevant, or wrong they are.

The private sector depends on output and results; academia harbours gassy hacks who may never produce much of anything at all.

The ceremony on Sunday opened with the procession of the university luminati, led by bagpipers of the St Andrews Society. Ordinary people - even presidents of the United States of America - wear common coats and ties; the academic elite are gussied up with all manner of robes, funny hats, cowls, tassels, honours...and a line of capital letters following their names like baby ducks behind a waddling quack.

'All that brainpower...working on our Justin...it must have done him some good,' parents say to themselves.

Then, they have their doubts. Justin seems to think that 'diversity' is what really matters...that Bernie Sandershas the right idea...and that eating gluten is a sin.

Privately, they wonder if they haven't just been the biggest fools on the planet, spending more than $100,000 to put their boy through four years of brainwashing...with no visible improvement in his critical thinking.

But this is no time to say anything. It's too late. So, they take their seats, along with thousands of others...

At least...those were the dark thoughts gathering in our mind as we sat in a plastic chair on the green, waiting for the festivities to begin.

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Criticism and Cynicism

Mr E Thomas Sullivan, university president, must have seen the clouds over our head.

'Criticism and cynicism will not lead to a constructive solution,' he said, looking right at us.

But criticism and cynicism are just what the University of Vermont most lacks. Without them, the Yankees allow themselves to believe any self-congratulatory bunkum that comes along.

They say on Wall Street: When everyone is thinking the same thing, no one is really thinking. That's the problem with the institution of higher learning on the banks of Lake Champlain. If anyone is doing any thinking there, they didn't let him say anything on Sunday.

We're used to commencement claptrap. The typical graduation exercise is always a mixture of lies, pandering, blah-blah, and flattery. The only redeeming quality is that it is transparently insincere.

Students are told how wonderful they are. They are assured that they are now equipped to go out into the world and be 'leaders'. They are urged to 'maximise [their] potential'. How? 'Make a difference!' Make a 'positive contribution'. 'Advance society...' 'Advance humanity...' 'Save the world...'

Whoa...how do you do that?

The suggestions weren't long in coming...

'Who here doesn't believe that climate change is the most important challenge facing this graduating class?' asked the university president in his opening remarks. Out of thousands of arms, only a couple hands went up.

Mr Sullivan hardly needed to ask. For him and the rest of the jury, no further deliberations were necessary. The verdict has already been rendered. No need for any more evidence, testimony, or eyewitnesses. The matter was settled. There was not a single dissent. Not a single question.

If there were any doubts about the difference between good and evil...or who should be elected president...none were mentioned...or how the world works...it was nowhere to be seen.

I Care, Therefore I Am

Students were cited for special recognition...awards were given...speeches made...on and on...hour after hour.

One student was lauded for his contributions to 'eliminating racism'...

Another was 'building communities'...

Still another was congratulated for his efforts to 'save the world'...

Another was supporting 'gender confirmation surgery'...

Every one of them was a world improver. Every one 'cared'. And every one of these inchoate idealists had a ticket to government employment.

Only one will definitely not find a nest among the zombies - one whose degree was awarded posthumously.

'I care, therefore I am,' suggested Gail Sheehy, who gave the keynote address and neatly summed up the event's leitmotif.

'Caring' is all you need to do. You must care about the poor, the excluded, the politically correct victims left behind by modern cutthroat capitalism.

Don't worry about whether caring actually makes a damned bit of difference.

Don't concern yourself whether meddling in others' lives really helps them.

Ignore Adam Smith's insight...that it wasn't his love for humanity that got the baker up at 4am to warm his ovens. Most likely, Smith was right; world improvement is a by-product of trying to improve your own life, not trying to change the world itself.

And Friedrich Hayek was probably right, too; trying to improve the world by inflicting your ideas on others does more harm than good.

But at UVM, all you gotta do is care!

And if you don't care, you don't exist.

A Strange and Hostile New World

No student was encouraged to bake better bread. None was rewarded for improving the internal combustion engine. Not a single one was recognised for anything that might demonstrably and convincingly make peoples' lives better.

Instead, the caring alumnae leave the university like drunks leaving a bar after closing time...their judgment impaired by the heady fumes of do-goodism.

Will the world really be a better place a year from now...or two years...or however long it takes for these 'carers' to work their magic?

We don't know. But you'd think that a university would be a good place to at least ask.


BILL BONNER Founder, Agora Inc


PS: On a positive note, our son graduated with a degree in geology...a discipline still untarnished by claptrap thinking. We were the proudest parents in Burlington.

Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.

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2 Responses to "Will Academia Teach Your Children How to Add Value to the World?"

AB Pereira

May 25, 2016

Mr Bonner, You have hit the nail where it should be hit. Claptrap is a wonderful word you have used. There is praise for everyone, so that the capitalistic education system gets praise in return!
Another new thing I learnt today is your stock market alibi - when everyone thinks the same thing, nobody is really thinking! I can understand you to be a socialist cum capitalist, like me, but we are minorities in this cruel, crooked world of out and out capitalists. Sadly, they have hijacked our education, healthcare and governance systems and we are left to mind for ourselves as well as worry for the politically and capitalistically oppressed.


Anand Doctor

May 25, 2016

I'm a loyal reader of "Vivek Kaul's diary". I find Mr.Kaul's articles insightful and worth investing the time to read them regularly.
However, I'm also regularly disappointed to find articles from Mr. Bonner when I click on the email with the title "Vivek Kaul's Diary"!

Why not keep the 2 separate? Those who wish to read Mr. Bonner's views can do so by subscribing to say "Bill Bonner's diary". Those who want to read both can subscribe to both.

Why push one in the name of the other? Why bundle apples with oranges?

Equitymaster requests your view! Post a comment on "Will Academia Teach Your Children How to Add Value to the World?". Click here!