In a complicated world, good intentions can have terrible consequences, Arnold Kling reminds us — in his hypothetical high school graduation speech:
If you judge people by how their life’s work contributed to better lives for people and less poverty in the world, then I will gladly stack up the Henry Fords and Thomas Edisons against the Mother Theresas. Collectively, the capitalists and entrepreneurs have a much better claim on our gratitude than do the icons of community service.
What would you rather have in your community? Would you rather have the Wal-mart that hires the workers that other businesses cannot use and for whom politicians can offer no assistance–people with little education or training, including people with disabilities? Or would you rather have the “activists” who fight to keep out Wal-Mart or who insist that they should dictate Wal-Mart’s labor policies?
In a complicated world, good intentions can have terrible consequences. One hundred years ago, many well-intentioned people championed Communism. When Lenin took power in Russia in 1917, he actually believed that the economy would organize itself, and that without profits production would be more efficient and more equitable. When both his ideas and his leadership proved unpopular, he responded with ruthless tyranny. His took his self-righteousness to a mad extreme, but I am afraid that there is a little bit of Lenin lurking among all of those who are so certain that community service is morally superior to business.
If those of you who are graduating today go on to attend a liberal arts college, you will hear constantly from people who equate moral character with political expressions of approval for non-profits and disapproval of business. They judge you not be the content of your character but by the conformity of your political expression. I urge you to reject their doctrines.