Stereotyping Grad Programs

In my “What’s Shaping the Internet?” class last week, we were talking about universal communication access briefly when the only MBA student in the class commented that he thought it was all a waste of money and that he believed “the free market should handle it”.

I am so freaking tired of hearing that phrase.  It’s a red flag phrase that is hammered into the heads of MBA students everywhere.  They parrot it constantly.

Really?  The free market will just do everything?  Ask an MBA you know to explain the rumored Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac back-stopping this weekend.  I bet his head will spin trying to rationalize keeping the financial system afloat while at the same time advocating free-market creative destruction.

It’s offensive that MBAs and free-market advocates are taught singularly this way of thinking, even though they paid tens of thousands of dollars to go to schools which should be teaching that the lines are not so clear, that government policies, free-market finance and trade, societal and cultural norms, and a multitude of other factors all work together to promote success.

Most of my classes deal with policy at some level and that’s a lot of what differentiates my program (foreign service/international affairs) from other programs at our university, even those within the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.  The closest program to ours is the public policy program.

Let me explain that.

The MBA students are taught that business is the way the world really works, and this has been reinforced by the latter half of the 20th century in their minds.  They are not so wise on policy issues or how business climates are developed in the first place.  Apparently, a market emerges out of a vacuum.  And as far as marketing goes, you can sell something to anyone regardless of whether he wants it or not.  And debt financing and business operations are hindered by government oversight, which is without exception always corrupt.

Business people tend to blank out whenever the conversation doesn’t involve “i-banking”, structured finance, bond rates, “adding value”, or case studies.  They’re akin to the daytraders I used to listen to on IRC — vague business knowledge but no real insight into what actually works and what doesn’t.  No ideas.

Then we have our security studies students, most males of whom are total tools.  Few actually served in the military but happily suckle from the teat of the government through the DoD, DHS, or…as they love to say during their personal introductions in class…as a consultant for a large government agency.  Give me a fucking break.  Wow, you have a clearance and you peddle bullshit intelligence analysis that none of your politically-appointed bosses will ever read.  That’s so cool.  Better keep that on the downlow lest Osama be sitting behind you in class.

You can spot security studies guys usually because they exude some degree of shallowness and insecurity in their starched blue shirts, red ties, and cheesy jackets.  Sometimes with a lanyard tied to an ID card in their breast pocket for cool-guy effect.  The girls are usually pretty cool — I think you’d have to be in such a male-dominated world.  The guys who are worth talking to are usually pretty humble and down-to-earth and don’t identify with the rest.

If you see an Arab, chances are he’s in the Arab Studies program or my program.  Security studies is notoriously conservative and more than a few people I’ve met are vaguely racist towards Arabs.

As for my program, we’re networkers and generalists and are interested in a lot of subjects.  It’s the broadest of the programs.  People hype up a rivalry between us and Johns Hopkins SAIS but it doesn’t really exist — many people share friends across schools, including up the road at Harvard and Fletcher.  At our house party last night, I heard a couple people say people had told them our program is a bit elitist…  But I’ve never heard that around town — usually there’s a healthy respect across campuses and within employers.

So get back to this guy in my class…  I had to make sure I spoke up and commented on his free-market bs.  He’s literally saying this in a class taught by a policy advisor who helped Al Gore to bankroll a nexus between government, academia, and business for a climate that gave birth to the internet.  That’s either really firm on a position, or plainly ignorant.  I’m voting on the latter.

That stuff really sets me off.  How is it that in today’s day and age, we still have to argue that companies, NGOs, government, universities, and individuals have to all work together pretty tightly in order to progress?  How is that happening in discussions at a grad student level?

To be fair, most people in our programs are incredibly open-minded and always seeking to find or refine questions for today’s problems.  But it can be very worrying to see guaranteed future leaders of this country proposing junk ideas.