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How my finance professor taught me that capitalism is wrong

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#1
Gman42

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I am in my last semester of college right now and am about to graduate with a major in finance and a minor in economics. I've experienced a fair amount of frustration in some of these courses especially regarding Keynesian economics. Last semester though really set me off. I took financial services with a professor who it turns out was a very liberal Keynesian prone to going on long rants about the dangers of unchecked self-interest and capitalism. This teacher bothered me in particular because he wasn't just regurgitating the non-sense he read in text books; he passionately believed what he was saying and attempted to attack capitalism on a fundamental level - pointing out that much of the time we need to put aside self-interest and focus on the "greater good". On the first day of class, here's the scenario he gave us in order to prove his point:

"Imagine there is a fire in a crowded theater. If everyone acts in their self-interest, they'll all run for the door as a mob and amongst pushing, shoving and trampling won't be able to get out in time. Thus, they all burn to death as a result of their selfishness. What they all should do is cooperate and leave in an efficient manner."

The way I see it, if you find yourself in this situation, there are several options:

1) Ignore the reality that you are surrounded by hundreds of people, blindly run towards the nearest exit and probably die.

2) Ignore your own well being and focus on protecting everyone else. Hope that everyone else does the same for you. If all goes well, everyone makes it out of the theater alive which is great. Incidentally, you also make it out which isn't important but it is good.

3) Acknowledge that the best way to make it out of the theater alive is to cooperate with those around you and leave in an efficient manner. You do this because you want to live. Assuming everyone else also wants to live, they'll cooperate with you and you'll survive. (Assuming the crowd wants to live is not difficult. Your evidence is that they are alive, if they didn't want to live, they'd already be dead).

In my experience, people have absolutely no clue what self-interest means. They believe that option 1 is self-interest: avoiding cooperation with others at all costs. In most peoples' ideal world, we all follow number 2. We select our actions based on what benefits those around us; then, if we are unhappy it isn't our fault, its the fault of everyone around us for failing in their moral duty. In reality, option 3 is the best choice. MY life is the ultimate standard of value.

The rest of the semester was filled with more false analogies, arguments from intimidation, arguments from authority and blatant contradictions but I guess that's to be expected. Maybe most frustrating was looking around the class and seeing everyone smiling and nodding along.

#2
2046

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I have a certain Marxist professor whom I argue with every class. I definitely feel your pain.

#3
brian0918

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Ahh yes, "Emergency Situations: A Philosophy for Living" :/

He's a great example of the "people are stupid, someone has to do their thinking for them" mindset: he identifies *why* it is in someone's self-interest to cooperate with others, but can't imagine that anyone else could also grasp it as being in their self-interest.

The problem with reality is that it only works in practice. In theory, it can never work. ;)


#4
Capitalism Forever

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In my experience, people have absolutely no clue what self-interest means. They believe that option 1 is self-interest: avoiding cooperation with others at all costs.

Yup--and some people take it even further, equating self-interest with hurting others. I guess in the case of the truly malevolent, this is a confession of their own desires: "I want to see other people suffer, so self-interest means doing bad things to others."

Pessimist: "Oh no, the glass is half empty, we're doomed!"
Optimist: "How nice, it's half full, let us be grateful for this gift!"
Objectivist: "Let me refill that."


#5
PatriotResistance

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"Imagine there is a fire in a crowded theater. If everyone acts in their self-interest, they'll all run for the door as a mob and amongst pushing, shoving and trampling won't be able to get out in time. Thus, they all burn to death as a result of their selfishness. What they all should do is cooperate and leave in an efficient manner."


Another irony is that people instinctively DO behave in their own self-interest as his example shows. It is the large loss of life in such cases that led to building and fire codes that have been in use for decades. It is inadequate exit widths, doors swinging the wrong way and other construction factors that have led to such deaths - has nothing at all to do with anyone acting, or not, in their self-interest.

Bob

#6
Soth

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Also worth pointing out is that it is Capitalism that creates theaters, and the capital required for mass college education, and the very specialized jobs such as the one your professor has lecturing in front of a class instead of working in a field somewhere from dawn till dusk.


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