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COLUMN

Rewarding Genius and Ambition

Guest Column Sourav K. Mandal

I wish to respond to Michael Borucke’s column “In Search of a Better System” (January 12). Borucke writes an essay that is long on irrational sympathy for the “workers,” but short on the principles of justice for the ready, willing and able individual; in the end, he damns the very people who make life so kind for everyone.

Borucke’s misguided thesis is most concisely crystallized in the eleventh paragraph, where he writes “...it is the worker who produces, and it is the worker upon which the boss is dependent. Call it socialism or communism, it seems much more democratic to take the power from the corporations and give it to the masses.”

This position is based on the woefully arcane notion that there are two immiscible classes of people -- the oppressed, who toil endlessly to simply subsist; and the oppressors, who own, have always owned, and will forever own the means of this subsistence (sound familiar?). Such a situation existed in medieval Europe and czarist Russia, and still exists in some areas of the world today where cruel dictators rule; it is no doubt unjust. However, Borucke’s insinuation that the American capitalist society of today is equivalent to birth-right monarchy or Machiavellian despotism is execrable.

We currently live in the golden age of genius and ambition: Bob Metcalfe helped invent Ethernet, which now provides the wheels for the Internet; Bill Gates had the courage and vision to drop out of Harvard (don’t laugh) to found Microsoft, which, for all its software engineering snafus, has driven the concept of the personal computer to its current station; and, the apotheosis of success, Michael Jordan, who rose from relative modesty in North Carolina to being perhaps the greatest athlete of all time, and now is engaged in commercial enterprises which help employ thousands of people. These people are the most glorious examples of the “bosses” that Borucke vilifies.

If one were to examine any vibrant, successful company, the bosses work longer and harder than any of their subordinates -- they are driven by desire for money, fame or love of their work, or a combination thereof. In fact, everyone is a boss: there is an obvious chain of accountability from the graveyard shift janitors to the CEO, who in turn is accountable to the shareholders, one of whom may very well be one of those janitors working towards his retirement on E*Trade. We are now in the embryonic stages of what could be a society of dazzling accomplishment.

A “worker” in Borucke’s sense of the word is somebody with an over-developed sense of entitlement. To value a person simply because of his or her low station is to devalue the accomplishments of the courageous and able. Furthermore, such an attitude patronizes the people in humble situations who have the drive and talent to be successful.

Borucke does not clearly outline his better system, but it would certainly frustrate these people of ambition; the answer is not government entanglement in the economy, but a clear detachment from it so that the state can be left to the provision of an unshakable rule of law to protect rights.

Yes, I think laissez-faire capitalism in its purest form is the “pinnacle of human existence;” no I will never “throw my hands up in the air,” but maybe I’ll go buy a pair of khakis. I do not wish to wade into a bog of statistics to argue the empirical merits of such a system. If the free market leads to impoverishment for some, so be it -- its principles are perfect by me.

Sourav K. Mandal is a member of the Class of 2000.