“A Modest Proposal” from Andrew Delbanco at the Huffington Post

If they had a broader, humanities-based education, would Goldman Sachs employees be less inclined to call their clients “muppets”? Or would they at the very least come up with a more eloquent put-down?

In this post at the Huffington Post, Andrew Delbanco wades into the fray. A brief excerpt here, but read the complete article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-delbanco/a-modest-proposal_9_b_1382791.html

Between Inside Job, Margin Call, and, most recently, Greg Smith’s public resignation from Goldman Sachs on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, business has been getting bad press of late — to put it mildly. The notion of business as a predatory world in which customers are helpless prey has gained traction on the right (the Tea Party) and the left (Occupy Wall Street). Many Americans in the middle find the description convincing.

Having spent my life in academia, which has its own problems, I can’t say whether business ethics have fallen to the extent that Mr. Smith claims. If so, it’s not the first time. Walt Whitman once denounced America’s “business classes” for their “depravity” and charged that their “sole object is, by any means, pecuniary gain.” That was nearly 150 years ago.

What I do know is that at the elite universities from which investment firms such as Goldman Sachs recruit much of their talent, most students are no longer seeking a broad liberal education. They want, above all, marketable skills in growth fields such as information technology. They study science, where the intellectual action is. They sign up for economics and business majors as avenues to the kind of lucrative career Mr. Smith enjoyed. Much is to be gained from these choices, for both individuals and society. But something is also at risk. Students are losing a sense of how human beings grappled in the past with moral issues that challenge us in the present and will persist into the future.