Carey Center for Democratic Capitalism
January 16, 2007
Cambridge, Mass. 02138
Dear President Bok:
Our Founders conditioned the success of this great democratic experiment on the “will and wisdom” of well-educated citizens. America can again lead the world towards the benefits of freedom if educated people regain control of economic and foreign policies. This will not happen unless the universities embrace the mission of elevating and uniting the people. You have led for many years in the campaign to educate students for their responsibilities as citizens. In your continuing effort please consider my book Democratic Capitalism, in which I describe how to harmonize democracy and capitalism on The Way to a World of Peace and Plenty.
The post-modernists threw the baby out with the bath water when they rejected
capitalism along with the other “isms,” communism, socialism, and fascism, as failed 20th- century “single solutions” for improvement of the human condition. They thus lumped the system, imperfect as it is, that has freed hundreds of millions of people to live a better life with the systems that denied freedom and killed hundreds of millions of people. If they had examined capitalism, instead of rejecting it, they would have found an underlying synthesis of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill, according to which economic freedom, properly defined, can eliminate material scarcity in the world, and economic common purpose can raise the standard of living and steadily reduce the violence. Moreover, they would have found that this democratic capitalism maximizes the broad distribution of wealth because it encourages each person to seek their potential in a moral environment. This economic system that can eliminate material scarcity, elevate spirits, and unify people can be the “compelling unifying purpose” referred to in your book, Our Underachieving Universities
Any revision of the curriculum to educate students to be effective citizens will gain focus by defining the superior economic system as the centerpiece of social progress. The intellectual community has persistently favored political fixes for social problems but ignored economic solutions. This had led to failure and the abandonment of idealism by many. For example, Harvard professor John Rawls declared that political liberalism “had no such ambitions” to find a comprehensive secular doctrine for the advancement of society. This rejection of the ideal, the means, and process, the legacy from the 18th--century Enlightenment, is the root cause of why our universities are failing to adequately prepare citizens. It is the reason that cynicism and relativism dominate our society, with knowledge fragmented and over-specialized in academia’s inadequate integration. It is the reason that many in academia would call your mission of finding a “compelling unifying purpose” an impossible task.
Harvard professor Edward Wilson took the opposite view and challenged the universities in his book, Consilience, to integrate knowledge for human betterment. He defended the Enlightenment as having “got most of it right,” and proposed an end to the culture war between sciences and humanities by treating the boundary as “unexplored terrain needing cooperative entry from both directions.” Other educators, such as Dean Stanley Fish of the University of Chicago, disagree with your mission to educate students to be better citizens. He declared in an article in The New York Times that education for citizenship is not the function of the university.
How then should society view “higher learning” in which administrators and professors have differences this fundamental about the university’s mission? As Francis Bacon advised early in the 17th century: “It is not possible to run the course aright, when the goal itself has not been rightly placed.”
The world was ready after the demise of communism to unite in economic common purpose. Instead of leading in this unique opportunity, the country that had shown the world the benefits of economic freedom corrupted its own economic system to one that is short-term and greedy, and corrupted its foreign policy to one that is militaristic and imperialistic. Capitalism and democracy are in tension whereas they should be in harmony. America is in urgent need for reform in both areas, but the corruptions have happened because the lack of citizen education has allowed a policy vacuum to be filled by an arrogant and ignorant few. What could be more important than to educate students at every level in the reasons why tension dominates and how it can be replaced by harmony?
The universities are now failing to unite and elevate society because their post-modern politicized environment demeans idealism. Since universities left their religious roots in the 19th century, they have not found a secular alternative consistent with the values of religion. Democratic capitalism, however, can break this distracting gridlock because it is based on moral principles common to religion and humanism: the worth and potential of each human harmonized in an environment of trust and cooperation. This teaching is consistent with Marx’s advice that: “the free development of each, is the condition for the free development of all.” Marx’s proposal to change the work culture from alienation to cooperation is also the way to maximize broadly distributed wealth. Whether one draws on religion, Enlightenment philosophy, social sciences, or Information Age business practice, harmonization of individual ambitions with the instinct for social cooperation leads to superior performance in a powerful, universal moral system.
This is not abstract theory. Studies by Harvard Professor Robert Putnam in northern Italy of a community with a concentration of cooperatives led him to the conclusion that trust and cooperation in the work place do flow into the contiguous community. This benign infection was documented by a reduction in crime and cost of protection.
My bookshould be helpful because I examine democratic capitalism as the superior mode of production for the post-capitalist society. This economic system, by providing opportunities for every human to seek their potential, is rooted in optimism that will displace the pessimism of the post-modernists. Democratic capitalism has been in gestation for over two centuries since the time of Adam Smith, and later, Marx and Mill, but current developments make its emergence and further refinement especially promising: The superiority of democratic capitalism has been demonstrated in thousands of companies in terms of humanization of the work place, and positive effect of long-term profitability; economic freedom has now been verified by China and India where 500 million humans have been released from extreme poverty in a mere decade; Information Age industries around the world demand the democratic work culture as a competitive necessity; and in the United states, wage earners’ pension and 401(k) savings are now a major source of investment capital. The fact that this capital is now being exploited is an intolerable contradiction. During this same time, the European Union has confirmed that economic common purpose can stop the violence: They have ceased centuries of killing millions of their young men in stupid wars.
I am sending you a copy of my book along with two chapters of volume 2, a work in progress. Please visit the Carey Center for Democratic Capitalism website: www.democratic-capitalism.com for my background, and a description of the Carey Scholars program. Although my career was running companies, I have had the opportunity to examine what students were learning, and not learning, through my communication with more than fifty Carey Scholars over the past thirteen years.
Never has the responsibility of the university to educate, elevate, and unite been greater. Is it not time for the universities to engage in the intellectual process necessary to formulate this mission? In my book, I propose “Enlightenment II” for undertaking this examination.
Please let me know if we can meet to discuss this challenge, the resolution of which will determine the direction of society in the 21st century.
Ray Carey MBA ‘50