Saturday, July 31, 2010

Atlas Shrugged Video Trailer

I was saddened to learn that the Atlas Shrugged movie that had been scheduled for 2008 was not made. I noticed this video on Youtube and think it is cool.  Unfortunately blogspot is cutting off the end but you can view it here if you want or click on the video.

Senior Seminar Course Syllabus, Fall '10

Brooklyn College Senior Seminar
Syllabus Business 4200W
Fall 2010
Professor Mitchell Langbert


Overview

What do pundits believe that you need to do in order to succeed in light of varying interpretations of the role of the individual in society?  Two basic currents concerning success are the self- and the socially- oriented.  These two currents may be incompatible, although some, like Stephen Covey and Stanley and Danko, argue that the most successful people in American life are able to balance them. Others, like Reinhard Bendix, argue that popular interpretations of how to succeed reflect managerial ideology or power of the capitalist or managerial class and that they are irrelevant to the substantive requirements to succeed, which are class-based.  Others would argue that markets drive the determinants of success, and that the best we can to do to succeed is to anticipate what markets will demand. 

Assignments

This is a writing intensive course and therefore three five-page papers will be required.  Written assignments must be handed in on the due date via SafeAssignment in the “Assignments” section of Blackboard on or before the due date by 12:00 midnight. No papers may be e-mailed. No late papers will be accepted.

For the first five-page paper students must analyze Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom.

            For any of the readings it is critical to develop a thesis concerning the reading that you defend.  In other words, you need to pretend that you are the professor and give yourself an assignment. The broad answer to the assignment is your thesis.  You should start your paper by stating your thesis.  Then, in the rest of the paper you should defend it.  Details concerning how your papers will be graded are in Appendix I.

            For the second of the papers you must compare the characters of Henry David Thoreau, as he depicts himself in Civil Disobedience and James Farmer, Jr., the great debater in the film The Great Debaters starring Denzel Washington as Professor Melvin B. Tolson and Denzel Whitaker as James Farmer, Jr.  Melvin Tolson and James Farmer, Jr. were real life figures.  Farmer co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was considered one of the four most prominent civil rights leaders between the late 1940s to the 1960s. Tolson was a professor at Wiley College.  In real life the 1935 Wiley debating team defeated the University of Southern California, not Harvard.  There were additional inaccuracies in the film, but they are unimportant for our subject.

In comparing Thoreau and Farmer you need to focus your thesis on how Thoreau’s and Farmer’s views of success in America differed or were similar.  What did success with respect to American society mean to James Farmer, Jr. and also Professor Tolson, and what did success with respect to American society mean to Henry David Thoreau?  Are the different perspectives entirely due to the socio-economic advantages that Thoreau enjoyed and discrimination that Farmer and Tolson suffered?

            For the third of the papers you must analyze the character of Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s FountainheadAmong the questions that your thesis might ask are (your thesis can include a broader range of questions):

-Does Howard Roark offer a realistic role model for graduates who aim to succeed?
-What value system does Howard Roark represent?
-Which interpretation of success would be most consistent with Howard Roark’s approach?
-In the real world, who would be more likely to succeed, Howard Roark or Peter Keating?

Quizzes

In addition, there will be a series of quizzes consisting of three multiple choice questions each.  No make-ups are given for the quizzes.

Attendance and Punctuality Grade

            Attendance is expected and counts ten percent toward your grade.  The attendance grade is computed by taking the ratio of times present to the number of times attendance was recorded.  Punctuality is also expected and also counts ten percent toward your grade. It is computed as an attendance/punctuality grade.  The attendance/punctuality grade is computed by taking the ratio of times present at the time roll is called to the number of times roll call was called.  If you are absent, you receive zero credit for both attendance and punctuality.  

Punctuality and attendance are mandatory and will be monitored.  If a student cannot regularly attend class and arrive to class on time, s/he should not take this course.  Your grade will be reduced for each absence and for each time that you are late.  If you have a personal obligation that will interfere with your punctuality or attendance, such as a health issue, child care or any other serious personal matter, you should consider taking this class at a different time when you can attend every class on time. You will be marked late or absent regardless of any excuse.  In other words, excuses, including medical and child care excuses, are not accepted.  For example, if parking presents a problem because it is difficult to find a space, you need to come early to find parking or take the class during a time when parking does not pose a problem to your arriving on time.
 
 Web-Enhanced Course

This is a web-enhanced course.  All students are expected to log onto blackboard on occasion and to participate in several discussion board discussions. (The discussion board is accessed by going to “communications” under “course tools” and then to “discussion board”.)    Participation in discussion board discussions will count as attendance credits, and you will lose attendance credits if you fail to participate.

Also, you must submit your skill application and goal setting exercises via SafeAssignment in the “Assignments” section of Blackboard.

You must have an active e-mail account entered on the Brooklyn College portal (web central--portal.brooklyn.cuny.edu) and you must have access to your blackboard account by the first day of class.
 Grading

3 5-page papers     40 points
Quizzes                  40 points
Attendance and Punctuality   20 points

Required Sources

Friedrich Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society” at http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html
*Reinhard Bendix, Work and Authority in Industry
*David McClelland, Achieving Society
**Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom 
**Benjamin Franklin, Way to Wealth
*Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
**Elbert Hubbard, Message to Garcia 
**Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich
*David Riesman with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney, Lonely Crowd
**Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
**Stephen R. Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,
**Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, Millionaire Next Door
**Ayn Rand, Fountainhead
*Course packet
**Available at Shakespeare & Co. on Hillel Place next to McDonald’s, not at the campus bookstore.

Lesson Plan

            You should read 65 pages of Fountainhead each week.  Each quiz will include a question on Fountainhead reading for the week.  We will discuss Fountainhead each week.

  1. 8/29. Managerial Ideology and the Success Literature. Reading from Reinhard Bendix, Work and Authority in Industry and Friedrich Hayek, “Use of Knowledge in Society.” Quiz on “Use of Knowledge in Society”
  2. Labor Day, No class 9/5.
  3. 9/12. Capitalism and Freedom, chapters 1-4. Quiz on Bendix.
  4. 9/19. Capitalism and Freedom continued. Quiz on Friedman.
  5. 9/26. Capitalism and Freedom, continued.  Quiz on Friedman.
  6. 10/3. Business and ethics.  Read Benjamin Franklin, Way to Wealth. The first paper is due this class. Quiz on Franklin.
  7. 10/10. Individualism and Its Discontents.  Read Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience. Quiz on Thoreau.
  8. 10/17. Psychological success.  Read Napoleon Hill, Elbert Hubbard. Film: The Great Debaters.  No quiz
  9. 10/24. Managerial theories of success.  Read Riesmann. Quiz on Hill, Hubbard and Riesmann.
  10. 10/31. Skill-based theories of success. Read Covey, chapters 1-3, McClelland. Optional: Rick Boyatzis, The Competent Manager.  Quiz on Covey.
  11. 11/7. Skill-based theories of success continued. Read Stanley and Danko, first 75 pages.  Quiz on Stanley and Danko.  Paper on Thoreau and Farmer is due.
  12.  11/14. Ethics and Wealth.  Video: Warren Buffet Interview
  13.  11/21. Ayn Rand, the Fountainhead.
  14.  11/28. No class, Thanksgiving.
  15.  12/5.  Paper on Howard Roark is due.

Appendix:  Grading Criteria for Paper

Assessment Category
Characteristics of Assignment



Better than good enough
 Student thinks critically about all print sources
1.       Student relies on sources beyond those required
2.       The thesis reflects critical thinking about all sources
3.       The thesis is clearly stated
4.       The thesis integrates theories and concepts discussed in class
5.       The discussion is clear
6.       The discussion is targeted at supporting the thesis
7.       Facts are recounted merely to support the thesis
8.       Discussion reflects understanding of the situation and of theoretical perspectives discussed in class
Good Enough
             1. The thesis is clearly stated
2. The thesis integrates theories and concepts discussed in class
3. The discussion is clear
4. The discussion is targeted at supporting the thesis
5. Facts are recounted merely to support the thesis
            6. Discussion reflects understanding of the situation
           and  of theoretical perspectives discussed in class



Not good enough
 Thesis not clearly stated or no thesis
1.       Failure to integrate theory and concepts from the course
2.       Poorly written; unclear discussion
3.       The discussion meanders or does not support the thesis
4.       Facts are recounted without bearing on the thesis and theoretical elaboration
5.       Discussion does not suggest grasp of the theoretical perspectives discussed in class



Hinchey's Land Grab


Paul Smart, editor of the Olive Press, our local penny saver, printed my letter this month attacking Progressivism.  I have had a multi-month debate in the letters section with Gus Murphy of Brooklyn (why a guy from Brooklyn reads the Olive Press I'm still trying to grasp) but this month I wrote on a different topic, Congressman Hinchey's insane federal parks proposal. Have the people of Ulster County lost their minds to elect someone like Hinchey?

Dear Mr. Smart:

Congressman Maurice Hinchey has proposed to turn the Hudson Valley into a federal park. Mr. Hinchey has a long history of advocating extremist environmental policies that bestow dictatorial powers on government administrators. Repeatedly, he has painted such proposals as moderate. He did this with respect to a 1990s bill that he proposed when he was chair of the State Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee. The bill that would have set up Soviet-style planning boards that would have limited if not ended construction. He managed to convince the previously skeptical Adirondack Daily Enterprise that this idea was moderate.
Around the same time Hinchey said that he would like to restrain economic growth in the Hudson Valley. His plan involved setting up environmental regulations known as the "greenway". He and his fellow Democrats succeeded in their goal of deliberately restricting economic growth. Employment in Ulster County has grown at one fifth the national rate since 1992 when Mr. Hinchey assumed his Congressional seat (and by under two percent since 1990, less than one ninth the national rate of employment growth). Now, Mr. Hinchey aims to further destroy Ulster County's economy by eliminating the rule of law through a federal park that would serve as a Trojan Horse to introduce federal control of the region.

The notion of the rule of law is apparently unfamiliar to Mr. Hinchey's supporters in the Democratic media, which serves as a Hinchey-for-Congress publicity service. To refresh your memory, please allow me to explain how a federal park will eliminate the rule of law.

The concept of the rule of law is that law must be predictable and subject to change only through the gradual process of judicial decision making called stare decisis (judges' use of precedents to maintain a stable set of legal rules) or legislation. In America, the founders established a Constitution to establish but limit federal power. The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 to clarify the limits. This was also done through the separation of powers across the branches of the federal government and federalism, the division of power between the states and the federal government.  Under the Tenth Amendment, rights not delegated to the federal government are retained by the states and the people.

Establishing a federal park would hand dictatorial powers to a park adminsitrator and abolish the division of power between federal and local control. It might also eliminate the separation of powers between the legislative and the executive branch in the sense that a parks administrator potentially would have unlimited power to make rules. Although the law might initially restrain such arbitrary power, the US Congress, in which Ulster County residents have scant voice, could change the law at will.  

More importantly, a park would eliminate state level rule of law, handing all decisions to a federal bureaucracy, in crucial areas like construction, land ownership, well digging, septic construction, fishing, hunting, wood burning, driving, smoking, eating, agriculture, establishing a business, building a camp, and virtually any other activity with any imaginable environmental impact. The park administrator could arbitrarily change the law. Even if that is not true in the beginning, Congress could endow the park administrator with new powers  over residents' protests.   That is precisely what Congressman Hinchey has repeatedly tried to do with respect to the hapless residents of the Adirondacks and Utah (he has repeatedly proposed a bill that would end development in 20% of the state of Utah) . Now he aims to do it to Ulster County.  Take a drive up to the Adirondacks and notice the poverty of the local residents there, courtesy of Congressman Hinchey, the Democratic Party and Mr. Hinchey's boosters in the Democratic Party media. 

Given Mr. Hinchey's recidivism in advocating radical environmental restrictions elsewhere there is no reason to believe that he has become an enviornmental moderate now. Moreover, there is every reason to believe that the parks proposal is a Trojan Horse.  During Mr. Hinchey's 18 years in Congress employment in Ulster County has grown at one fifth the national rate. You might ask yourself whether your economic welfare is of concern to him or to the radical environmentalists who motivate the parks proposal. 

But even if Mr. Hinchey is sincere that the legal effects would be minimal (which seems to be a contradiction in terms, for why else would he go through the trouble of establishing a park? To make up for the 15% of employment that he has destroyed since 1992?), the bill would effectively abolish the Constitution, federalism, stare decisis and local control of the land. Should Mr. Hinchey retire and environmental radicals lobby for strict restrictions on parks, the Hudson Valley Park could become a footnote to a major national environmental debate. Park regulations, laws, rules and dictatorial authority could be imposed without regard for Constitutional protections to which most Olive residents are so used that they cannot imagine life without them.

I have students who grew up in the Soviet Union and Communist China. If you want to learn about life where there is no rule of law, you can ask them. Or ask Mr. Hinchey's radical supporters in the environmental movement who likely have quite a few ideas about how to wreck your property's economic value and turn you into a serf. Just ask the long time residents in the Adirondacks (as opposed to the environmental radicals who have moved there in recent decades) about how wonderful Mr. Hinchey's parks proposals are.

Sincerely,

Mitchell Langbert

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wall Street Controls the Media Debate

I have been busy with my academic work and working on Mike Marnell's Lincoln Eagle.  The July issue came out last week.  As well, I have several ideas that I am considering with Mike and Glenda McGee, so my plate is quite full.  I am going to Pasadena for the conference of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, one of the few conservative academic conferences, and am going to be working to prepare a presentation until August 5.

I was just reading Richard Hofstadter's Social Darwinism in American Thought, which was written in 1944.  Hofstadter, who was one of the most influential twentieth century historians and a Progressive-liberal, calls Social Darwinism "conservative."  He discusses how the doctrine was associated with rapid change and economic progress, but considers it "conservative" nonetheless because it did not acknowledge the usefulness of planned governmental intervention to improve social conditions.

The use of the word "conservative" is ideological, and Hofstadter's book illustrates the ideological perspective of American universities then and now.  Calling a doctrine that was associated with the invention of the light bulb, AC electricity,  movies and television and radio "conservative" reflects an ideological agenda, not an attempt to accurately depict reality.  Moreover, Hofstadter's faith in government planning has been contradicted by time.  A litany of pathetic failures starting with the Great Depression, continuing through Robert Moses and on through the recent "stimulus" under which Washington spent a trillion dollars to increase unemployment disproves Hofstadter's outdated claims.

The "expertise" and "science" to which Progressive-liberalism adheres have failed.  In the 1950s March and Simon, two organizational theorists, wrote Organizations in which they argued that managers are incapable of managing firms optimally and so must "satisfice" or use "just good enough" decision criteria.  If rationality is limited in organizations, how about an entire economy?  Moreover, philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre in his argument for Aristotelian ethics, After Virtue, makes a convincing case that the "scientific" expertise that managers claim is little more than an empty, ritualistic fraud that cloaks Nietzschean nihilism.   Rationality is used as a justification for a non-existent competence that itself is a function of contempt for community.  I think that MacIntyre is mistaken that managers or the free market system depend on the ritualization of science.  MacIntyre was not a student of economics or management and so did not realize that the perspective he was attacking was that of Progressive-liberalism, not of free market capitalism that makes no, zero, claims to the rationality of economic actors in the sense that MacIntyre means it.  Hayek has discussed this question at length but MacIntyre likely was unfamiliar with Hayek so he confounds the viewpoint of Progressivism with that of laissez faire economics (he makes no claims about the latter, but it is clear that he views the entire free market system as hinging on the Progressive style claims which was not true historically).


Given the failures of Progressive-liberalism and the inability of rationality to plan the economy, or for that matter, to plan a paper bag, it is amazing that Hofstadter's use of the word "conservative" continues to flourish in the Wall Street dominated media, both the "conservative" branch as represented by Fox and the "liberal" branch as represented by the other channels and news outlets.  In fact, the nonsensical claim of a conservative-liberal debate serves the interest of the system's prime beneficiaries, the special interests whose servants of power in universities and the media stand ready to justify every grasp that Wall Street's piglets make.

The claim that the advocates of laissez faire are conservative and the claim that the advocates of state planning, an approach that was familiar to the Hapsburgs, to the Spartans, to the Persians, indeed, to every spear chucking primitive tribe in the world,are somehow "progressive" reflects the interests of Wall Street. For by cloaking their claims in the Keynesian language of efficiency, the incompetent, greedy special interests, the forces of government and unearned wealth, can manipulate public opinion.