Students Involved in Free enterprise.
By Vincent Romano
April 3, 2012
University of Illinois
Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of what you do here today.
The mission statement of your organization, Students Involved in Free Enterprise, suggests that your successes will be measured by your ability, as entrepreneurs, to apply business and economic concepts that will impact upon those, who by accident of nature or nurture, are less fortunate than you. Your food drive breathes life into the very meaning for our existence.
There are various themes that spin off of the purpose for this organizations existence. Let me attempt, in the brief time that we have here, to touch upon those themes I believe to have the greater relevance.
Milton Friedman, in his book Free to Choose asserts that the story of the United States is a story of two interdependent miracles:–an economic miracle and a political miracle. Each miracle resulted from a separate set of revolutionary ideas. Both sets of ideas, by a curious coincidence, were formulated in the same year, 1776.
One set of ideas was embodied in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, which established that an economic system could succeed only in an environment which allowed the freedom of individuals to pursue their own objectives. The second set of ideas, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was embodied in the Declaration of Independence. It proclaimed our entitlement of some self-evident truths…among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
John F. Kennedy, in his book A Nation of Immigrants wrote: That great doctrine “All men are created equal” was paraphrased from the writings of Filipo Mazzei, an Italian born patriot. One could surmise that the Italians—who first discovered, then explored and later named this great country–were also responsible for the symbiotic relationship of those two interdependent miracles. In merging, they produced the economic, social and political revolution that spawned, in less than two hundred years, space missions that have taken us beyond our blue planet…beyond our known universe…and even beyond our own galaxy. Transcending the combined imaginations of Jules Verne and Carl Sagan, we have peered across the cosmic ocean and glimpsed the beginnings of creation. We indeed have gone where no man has gone before.
Before you get too big-headed about the accomplishments of your species, I remind you that, we have gone all the way to the moon and back again…and still we cannot guarantee the development of a single human being.
The economic and political miracles, which had their genesis in that chance collision in 1776, are best exemplified in the following story:
A minister, taking a stroll down a country road, came across this really impressive looking farm. The farmer working the field came over to ask if he could be of any service. The minister, who had stopped to admire the view, told the farmer, “The lord has surely blessed you with a magnificent farm.” The farmer, pulling out his handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his brow, replied, “I don’t want to disappoint you, minister, but you should have seen this place when the lord had it all by himself.”
I shared this story with you as a reminder that your successes, as a free enterprise advocate, will be measured, not by how many mouths you feed…your successes will ultimately be measured by how many farmers you create. If a society is to produce enough food to support its scientists, its artists, its philosophers–including dreamers who can dream of things that never were and inspire us to ask, “Why not?”—it must be something more than a society of hunters, which requires 100% effort from each of its members in their daily quest for food.
To be fair, I should remind you that there are other measures of success–other than farming–that you can employ to benefit underdeveloped communities.
One recent example is that of a trader who came into a village and offered to purchase monkeys for $5 each. This created a financial bonanza for the villagers. After a few hectic weeks the monkey population was significantly reduced. It became more difficult to catch the monkeys and the villagers began losing interest. The entrepreneur, a sophisticated trader and business man, raised the ante to $10 per monkey. This encouraged the villagers. Eventually the price for the monkeys got up to $20 each.
Before preparing to return home on a business trip, the trader confided to his assistant that, when he returns, he will begin paying $50 per monkey. The assistant leaked that information to the villagers. In doing so, he encouraged them to buy the monkeys he had in stock for $30 each and then sell them back to the trader for the $50 price when he returns. The villagers took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself. They purchased the entire stock of monkeys from the assistant for $30 each.
The trader never did return. Neither he nor his assistant were heard from again.
So you see: you don’t have to create productive farmers to have an impact upon the lives of those living in less developed countries. You can introduce them to the complex world of finance by modeling Goldman Sach’s strategy of taking the opposite side of their trades.
Your generation has a greater and graver responsibility. A responsibility that, while transcending your food drive…is dependent upon the success of that food drive. The difference between mankind and our counterparts in the animal kingdom is that humans have the capacity to record and pass on what they have learned. Other members of the animal kingdom must learn everything anew from birth. No Library of Alexandria ever existed in the animal kingdom.
Your generation will be charged with the responsibility of passing on the cumulative knowledge of all preceding human generations. Knowledge that goes as far back as Prometheus, who gave mankind the gift of fire. Knowledge as distant as the monolith, in Stanley Kramer’s epic film, Space Odyssey 2001. Leo Melamed, architect of the successes of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, in his 2005 Loyola Commencement address, called it Knowledge Tag.
In the game of knowledge tag, your generation is next up to be IT. You will be responsible for tagging the next generation with the cumulative knowledge of mankind. There’s one more thing that you should be aware of: Your generation cannot simply pass on the knowledge you received. If that were the case, we would still be using stone tools. We would still be hunting and gathering for our existence. Therefore, before you can tag the next generation and make them it, you are required to give them more than what you had received.
The commissioner of U.S. Patents, Charles H. Duell, declared in 1899 that “everything that can be invented has been invented.” I believe it was shortly afterwards that the zipper was invented. I mention that fact because the movie There’s Something About Mary would never have been made if the zipper had not been invented.
You have committed to donating 5,000 pounds of food to those less fortunate than you. Whether you know it or not, the impact of that food, upon less fortunate communities, will be greater than it appears at first blush. The Freudian paradigm, Ericson’s stages of development and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are all intertwined with that food.
For the moment let’s hang with Maslow. In your pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for those who are too weak, too poor, too unsophisticated, or too unconnected– geographically and otherwise–don’t lose sight of Maslow’s theory. His Hierarchy of Needs gives credence to your food drive. If you recall from your 100 level psych courses, we cannot achieve any of our higher level needs without first satisfying, in turn, our lower level needs.
Maslow places self-actualization at the top of his pyramid. To achieve that peak experience, to become self-actualized, that journey, by definition, must begin at the bottom rung of the pyramid. Beyond food, beyond safety, beyond love and belongingness, and beyond self-esteem lies the ultimate purpose for our being: — to become all that we are capable of becoming…to achieve self-actualization.
Self-actualization has been defined in a variety of ways by our gurus. I am told that pre-requisite to becoming self-actualized is an awareness of all that ever was and all that will ever be. An awareness of the immenseness of the cosmos with a billion stars in each of a billion galaxies…and your place in that infinity of time and space. An awareness that every element that make us what we are today was formed in the core of stars that existed billions of years ago. You and those for whom you have compassion are all made of the stuff of stars. We are all star stuff.
Richard Bach brought that higher calling to the attention of the masses with his 1976 best seller, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. His book did for self-discovery what Thomas Paine’s Common Sense did for the American Revolution.
Just as a young immigrant from Corleone Italy once proclaimed: “I refuse to live the life of a fool dancing on the strings held by all those big shots”…so did a young seagull named Jonathan Livingston Seagull proclaim that he too refused to live the life of a fool dancing on those strings held by all those big shots. In Jonathan’s case those big shots were the elders of his flock. Jonathan, like all of our immigrant forefathers before us, wanted to become more than what had been ordained for him.
Coincidentally, Raymond Franz, who wrote Crisis of Conscience in 1983, was also ostracized by the elders of his flock. His book is required reading if you, as a business, economics or finance major, want to avoid another Jonesboro or distance yourself from the Goldman Sachs fiasco.
A dreamer, Jonathan challenged the belief that seagulls cannot and should not fly faster than 35 miles per hour. Each morning, rather than joining the other members of the flock competing for the Garbage thrown overboard by fishing boats, Jonathan took off on his own to improve his flying skills. Eventually, 12 other seagulls joined him. Jonathan’s life ended when he veered into a cliff flying at a speed of 200 miles per hour.
Herman Melville defined determinism with Captain Ahab’s explanation of his obsession to pursue and destroy Moby Dick: It was written a billion years before these oceans ever rolled. Jean-Paul Sarte, almost a century later, defined existentialism for our 20th century intellectuals with his Being and Nothingness. Richard Bach used the life of Jonathan to define Sarte’s existentialist theory that existence precedes essence. Jane Addams, social theorist, preceded both Sarte and Bach in breaking from the deterministic philosophy of the 19th century. Jane Addams used the Hull House neighborhood, this neighborhood, as her laboratory to apply her theory of symbolic interactionism. It is unfortunate that your university has chosen to disenfranchise the immigrants and migrants who lived the experience of the Hull House neighborhood. By executive decision, their stories are not considered to be relevant in preserving and reporting the legacy of Jane Addams or Hull House.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was made into a movie. Neal Diamond wrote the title song “Be.” The opening line “Be like a page in search of a word that speaks on a theme that is timeless” reflects upon your generation’s transition to becoming it in the game of knowledge tag. When you become it, you will no longer be pages in search of a word. When you become it, you will, in turn, become the words in search of a page.
In your pursuit to empower less fortunate communities and underdeveloped countries, do not forget the lessons brought to us by Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs and Steel: We did not transcend simultaneously across the planet. Geography determined the pace at which various societies transitioned from hunters to farmers. It was geography that caused the parcel of land that lies between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, the Fertile Crescent, to become the cradle of civilization. Geography, more than anything else, determines the fates of human societies and the course of history.
In India, they have a saying: “You are my Gemma.” It is a saying reserved for those rare individuals who cause us to become something more than we would have been had we not met them. The Gemma is a tributary that flows into the Ganghes River. It is believed that at the point at which the Gemma flows into the Ganghes, the Ganghes is no longer the same river. It has forever been influenced by the Gemma as it journeys down to the sea and beyond. Its ripples, cascading across the vast oceans, shape the landscape of foreign shores.
Your food drive can enable others to seek out their Gemmas; it can free others to become pages in search of a word; it may even produce a future Jonathan Livingston Seagull to dream of things that never were.
Whether you yourself become a Gemma to at least one other person; or you become that word searching for a page; or your efforts make it possible for at least one other human being to reach the zenith of Maslow’s hierarchy…be reminded that what you pass on, individually and collectively, will echo through eternity.
Good luck to you as you pick up the gauntlet in this eternal game of tag. Whether it’s knowledge tag or Gemma tag, it is a never ending story.