President Gann wants you to give back, but at what cost?
President Gann was quoted in today's The New York Sun about the $250,000 Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership and how such philanthropy is consistent with our school's motto.
Here is a snippet of what was written about Claremont McKenna College and what was said by President Gann.
I reject the notion that Bono has done any good with the massive amounts of capital he has thrown all over Africa. I've already written about that silliness here, here, and here. (I'm sure he's still working on convincing audiences that AIDS is curable, or some such other nonsense.)
...the annual prize is one way the college is working to increase student awareness and preparation for leadership roles in the nonprofit sector. (Traditionally it has emphasized leadership in government and business.) U2 band-leader-turnedphilanthropist Bono has come to speak on campus, and students are encouraged to pursue summer internships in the nonprofit sector.
The president of Claremont McKenna, Pamela Gann, said preparing students for the nonprofit sector is in line with the college's historic mission: to provide an education "tied to the world of action" that is "grounded in the market economy, with respect for democracy and liberty." She noted that these are the sentiments expressed in the college's motto, Crescit cum commercio civitas, or, "Civilization prospers with commerce."
As for President Gann, I frankly expect better than that statement that somehow nonprofit sector work is "grounded in the market economy." If anything, all of the studies show just the opposite. Nonprofit sectors more often than not distort local economies. It is the kind of paternalism embodied in Gann's statement that is keeping Africa (and much of the rest of the world) in chains.
But what is paternalism? Paternalism is the presumption to expertise, to believing that you know how to better run a man's life than he himself does. It is the assumption that we must give a hand out rather than encouraging a man to walk on his own two feet. Paternalism is the antithesis of commerce because it does not recognize an exchange between equals. Paternalism is the opposite of what George C.S. Benson and others advocated.
Moreover, I doubt paternalism can coexist with civilization. The Civilized Man believes culture is the sum of interactions between traders each acting in his own self-interest. It is paternalism and sacrifice that destroys individual will and subverts it to the collective's bidding.
It is this very paternalism that Gann calls nonprofit sector work.
If Gann were really trying to encourage leadership in nonprofit sector, it's beginning to show. Not only did the Ath bring Bono here, it also brought national service proponent David Gergen. (You might remember I strongly disagreed with his insistence on a national service program.)
Ritika Puri has forcefully argued on this blog's comment section in favor of her own charity work and more and more Claremont McKenna students seem to believe that old saw of doing well while doing good.
We hear the buzz word social entrepreneurship bandied about without ever considering that maybe all entrepreneurs are social entrepreneurs, as Carl Schramm of the Kauffman Foundation brilliantly pointed out in his Ath lecture. (Full disclosure: I'm going to work for the Kauffman Foundation soon.)
The problem with these "we can save the world" types is that they rarely consider the people they are actually helping and the local economies they end up distorting. Their quest to save the world is an ego trip that ends with their own self-satisfaction, not with systematic change.
It may well be true that it is emotionally fulfilling to give to others. No one is disputing that contention. Some scientists have even suggested that the sensation we get when we do good is akin to that which we receive when we have sex.
But, as CMC's own Ben Casnocha points out in his bit for Marketplace, rarely do we consider the people who are receiving the services. We ought to.
After all, civilization depends upon assessing ideas and their worth in the great marketplace of ideas. Ideas that cannot stand up to the test must retreat, lest we all suffer.