When Whim Rules

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A couple years ago, while setting up a contract negotiation assignment for my students, I asked: “imagine that, after a shipwreck, you have all landed on a previously unknown, uninhabited island, and it appears that you will be living there indefinitely. What conditions might you want to see prevail on this island that would be conducive to your material well-being?” I asked the question in order to get them to focus on the kinds of practices that would help them to live well. I thought that my students – most of whom were graduating seniors – might see the value of peaceful social behavior, respect for the inviolability of the lives and property of one another as well as the obligation of contracts, and other civilizing conduct. I unexpectedly heard an outpouring of such desires as “all the food we would need,” and “really nice homes to live in,” “beautiful clothing,” etc. In an effort to get to the point of my question, I inquired “how would these be provided?” Not one causal explanation was offered.

This is the kind of thinking that is produced by welfare-state conditioning. Undergraduate courses in the real sciences, economics, and other studies that explore causal connections that produce outcomes, are too challenging for students who are more comfortable with the politically-correct offerings that lay no burdens upon their minds. It is the world of what Ayn Rand called “whim worshipping.”

I received an e-mail from a reader – call him Steve – who reflected this whimsical attitude quite well. Responding to my recent LRC article on minimum wage laws, he asked: “So what to do with a guy with a family who takes away your garbage? . . . Should he be provided with a living wage? Health care for him and his family? No? Let ‘em [eat] cake? . . . And live impoverished even though he busts his hump day in and day out to take away your materialistic trash?” Like my students, he made no mention of how a “living wage” was to be provided other than by the violent, life-threatening acts of the state taking wealth from some and giving it to those who have earned the state’s favor. Neither did he show the slightest awareness that minimum wage laws end up hurting the very persons he fancies will be lifted out of their “impoverished” state. Such an awareness would require an understanding of basic economics, a course of study that helps one understand the consequences of interconnected causal factors. It is far easier to babble the empty bromides picked up in such mind-rotting courses as “social justice” or “gender studies.”

Increasing numbers of young people have become aware that graduating from college owing $200,000 – $300,000 in debt, to receive a degree in a field of study that offers no post-graduate employment, is not a beneficial option. Rather than spending four or more years learning to recite the banal platitudes of lock-step learning, many are heeding the advice of the late Steve Jobs by extricating themselves from the system.

12:34 pm on May 13, 2014