rational pursuit of maximum value
November 16, 2014, 2:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,
Naples, Italy | A Couple CooksIn civilizations gone by merchants never occupied the top rung of the social ladder.  Plato’s republic, the ancient castes of India, Renaissance Italy: they were always several steps down. But, somehow, we know better and have them ensconced – or more likely they have themselves ensconced – right at the top.

I used to teach at a university which installed as its dean the ex ceo of Jiffy Lube, his administrative and money skills no doubt outweighing his academic credentials at the selection interviews.

So what do we get when we put businessmen and economists at the top of our institutions, like government and universities? The accepted argument is solvency and profit, but are there other dividends?

Here’s a portion of an essay by a Harvard law student. He describes courses in which ‘feasibility’ and ‘efficiency’ are the central, generative ideas, and ‘justice’ – which one would believe to be central to the study of the law – tertiary.

Feasibility and efficiency are the lingua franca of the economist / businessman counting and distributing his beans: what are they doing in courses in the law at America’s best school?

The Johnny-come-lately nineteenth century science, economics, has come a long way and occupies a position of extreme privilege. It’s illegitimate. The study of law should be the study of law. When it’s whored out to business it stops defining, protecting and facilitating justice. It leads to self interest and self destruction.

Here is Ted Hamilton:

A year ago, I imagined — as most people probably do — that the initial year of legal studies would put a heavy emphasis on the good. I anticipated lots of lofty vocabulary about justice and rights and freedom. Attorneys may not have the cleanest reputations, but it seems fitting that an introduction to the life of the law would aim high, if only as an idealistic and rhetorical reprieve before the realities of the job market set in. But while there’s certainly some discussion of liberty and righteousness in the halls of our law schools, there’s not quite as much of it as you might think. The path to the bar is not paved with sentimental cobblestones of the Good and the Right. It’s much more pragmatic than that.

In fact, the most repeated word in my first year law curriculum was not justice, or liberty or order.

It was efficiency. Continue reading