Academic Ponders Free Enterprise

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

When academics turn their attention to America’s free enterprise system, they prove definitively that they never worked in it. “Both sides of the Romney family are distinguished in this story by their spirit of enterprise rather than by their education,” Christopher Newfield writes in The Chronicle Review. Newfield is an English professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

“In fact, Romney sees only two sources of wealth creation,” Newfield explains. “One is exploited, captive factory labor, Chinese-style, which Romney describes at length in Germinal terms, though without Émile Zola’s revulsion for the servitude and the desperation. Outsourced mass labor is, of course, a core strategy in the modern American economy, with Apple being only the most famous company to demonstrate how it can be used to make enormous profits.”

“The other source of wealth is capital, deployed by entrepreneurs. The centerpiece of Romney’s economic strategy is further cuts in income- and corporate-tax rates combined with ‘keeping current low tax rates on dividends and capital gains.’ Growth follows automatically from liberating capital from any but the most minimal obligation to support the society in which it operates, including support for the formation and maintenance of labor.” Apparently Mr. Romney was channeling Dickens when he created Staples and The Sports Authority.

“In contrast, Romney is typical of a contemporary business and political class that sees capitalism, in David Brooks’s choice phrase, as ‘an inherently elitist enterprise,’” Newfield claims. “As such, the last thing it needs is a highly skilled mass middle class, which is a drain on profits.”

One wonders if either understands the process by which the goods and services they use magically materialize. For one thing, if you have ever met any owners of businesses, large or small, you will learn that their one overriding barometer of success is not finding an off-shore tax loophole but answering in the affirmative the one question that that nags at businessmen and women everywhere: “Can I meet payroll?”

Oh, and speaking of drains, we now know that Mr. Romney gives over half of his income to the government and charity. As vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan pointed out to the man who currently holds the job he aspires to: “He gives more to charity than both of us combined.”

If Newfield reduces capitalism to comic book terms, he doesn’t fare much better with his native habitat. “Educational quality scaled up only because of the public funds that built the public college,” Newfield alleges. No, educational spending scaled up. The verdict on quality is still out.

For one thing, 50 percent remediation rates are hardly a benchmark of success. Even the faculty at Queensborough College recently acknowledged this remedial trend tacitly in a bill of particulars they sent to the chancellor: “Given the choice between losing their jobs or keeping the full 4 hours on instruction for students who enter the college with English as their second language and with significant lack of preparation for college level work, English faculty chose to act on behalf of their students and their colleagues have supported them.”


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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