Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pre-Business Major

I think Allan Bloom has a point here about the university turning increasingly into a vocational school. But his opinion that those who major in economics because their sole motivation is money is to say the least absurd. Economics is a powerful tool that enables its practitioner to analyze critically individual and social behavior, markets and industries, and international trade and development.

He needs to make a differentiation between those who major in economics and those who major in business administration. One is an actual science , the other is a vocational degree. Like Bloom however, I personally hold little respect for pre-business majors who take only the bare minimum of liberal arts and social science classes. Accordingly though, they are the ones losing out.

I think one also needs to make the point that what Bloom is/should be referring to here is the MBA undergraduate degree. I believe no one pursuing a MBA graduate degree has the perception that they're getting a liberal arts education or a scholarly one at that. It is and should be a path to getting a more lucrative job.

The establishment of the MBA as the moral equivalent of the MD or the law degree, meaning a way of insuring a lucrative living by the mere fact of a diploma is not a mark of scholarly achievement. It is a general rule that the students who have any chance of getting a liberal education are those who do not have a fixed career goal, or at least those for whom the university is not merely a training ground for a profession. Those who do have such a goal go through the university with blinders on, studying what the chosen discipline imposes on them while occasion­ally diverting themselves with an elective course that attracts them. True liberal education requires that the student's whole life be radically changed by it, that what he learns may affect his action, his tastes, his choices, that no previous attachment be immune to examination and hence re-evaluation. Liberal education puts everything at risk and requires students who are able to risk everything. Otherwise it can only touch what is uncommitted in the already essentially committed.

The effect of the MBA is to corral a horde of students who want to get into business school and to put the blinders on them, to legislate an illiberal, officially approved undergraduate program for them at the outset, like premeds who usually disappear into their required courses and are never heard from again. Both the goal and the way of getting to it are fixed so that nothing can distract them. (Prelaw students are more visible in a variety of liberal courses because law schools are less fixed in their prerequisites; they are only seeking bright students.) Premed, prelaw and prebusiness students are distinctively tourists in the liberal arts. Getting into those elite profes­sional schools is an obsessive concern that tethers their minds.

The specific effect of the MBA has been an explosion of enrollments in economics, the prebusiness major. In serious universities something like 20 percent of the undergraduates are now economics majors. Economics overwhelms the rest of the social sciences and skews the students' percep­tion of them—their purpose and their relative weight with regard to the knowledge of human things. A premed who takes much biology does not, by contrast, lose sight of the status of physics, for the latter's influence on biology is clear, its position agreed upon, and it is respected by the biologists. None of this is so for the prebusiness economics major, who not only does not take an interest in sociology, anthropology or political science but is also persuaded that what he is learning can handle all that belongs to those studies.

Moreover, he is not motivated by love of the science of economics but by love of what it is concerned with—money. Economists' concern with wealth, an undeniably real and solid thing, gives them a certain impressive intellectual solidity not provided by, say, culture. One can be sure that they are not talking about nothing. But wealth, as opposed to the science of wealth, is not the noblest of motiva­tions, and there is nothing else quite like this perfect coincidence between science and cupidity elsewhere in the university. The only parallel would be if there were a science of sexology, with earnest and truly scholarly professors, which would ensure its students lavish sexual satisfactions.

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