Friday, March 7, 2008

A "Helping" Industry

In a visit to Zanesville, Ohio, Michelle Obama urged a group of women to go into the "helping" industry, rather than to pursue better paying careers in business. Laudably, she warned against amassing loads of student debt.

She could have added -- but did not -- that student loans are no different from any other type of debt. A borrower must carefully assess the advantages and disadvantages of borrowing the money, including the strategic value of the skills acquired, and the probable time and ability to repay the loan.

After a promising start, Mrs. Obama revealed how she really thinks the economy works: it is pure luck that determines the difference between success or failure. Either that, or magic. She said,

"The salaries don’t keep up with the cost of paying off the debt, so you’re in your 40s, still paying off your debt at a time when you have to save for your kids.

Barack and I were in that position. The only reason we’re not in that position is that Barack wrote two best-selling books… It was like Jack and his magic beans. But up until a few years ago, we were struggling to figure out how we would save for our kids.

Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that."
What a shame someone did not have a copy of Benjamin A. Rogge's 1979 book, Can Capitalism Survive? handy. There, she could have read Professor Rogge's advice to the students of Wabash College. He wrote,

"I take as granted then your desire to do something useful to serve society. Can you do it as a businessman? That many still answer “no” to this question is a tribute to the enduring quality of an old myth—the myth that in an exchange, what one party gains, the other must lose. In a voluntary exchange, both parties must expect to gain or no exchange will take place. A businessman is a specialist in voluntary exchange, and his success is largely determined by how well he succeeds in serving others.

Don’t I really mean, by how well he succeeds in deceiving others into thinking he is serving them? Isn’t a kind of sophisticated dishonesty a requirement for success in business? I make no claims for the superior moral fiber of the businessman, but I will say this: A basically dishonest man can survive longer in the church or the classroom than he can in the grain exchange or the furniture business. The penalty system in the business world operates with some real precision and certainty, largely unencumbered by a mystique of occupational sanctification.

There are dishonest men in the business world, of course, but if you go into the business world, you will be under no greater pressure to stretch the truth than if you get a job as an editor of a college catalogue or as a speechwriter for candidates for political office or a member of Nader’s Raiders."

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