The Director's Blog

Thoughts from our Founding Director and other invited contributors.

Welcome to the Director’s Blog

 

This blog was founded to provide unique insights on the issues more important to the students, faculty, and community at Western Carolina University as well as to give some perspective to the goings-on at CSFE. Enjoy!

-Edward Lopez, Ph.D

Is Democracy in Decline? Free Enterprise Speaker Series Welcomes Philosopher Loren Lomasky

Is Democracy in Decline? Free Enterprise Speaker Series Welcomes Philosopher Loren Lomasky

In the next installment of WCU’s Free Enterprise Speaker Series, philosopher Loren Lomasky, a self-described Churchillian democrat, will dissect how political mis-information and a polarized populace can adversely affect election outcomes, and what to do about it.

People think of voting as a right, even a duty, but it is also a low-cost mode of expressing one’s point of view, however radical or incorrect it is. This latter point shouldn’t be ignored — not if we want to understand democracy. Fringe viewpoints have used recent democratic elections as giant megaphones, blowing dark clouds over freedom. A glance around the world turns up this dynamic in Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary, Sweden (although overblown), and arguably in the United States. “Is there any call for Churchillians to be worried?”, Loren writes. “In a word, yes.”

The ballot booth can be a place for expressing lofty morals, but it’s also a place for venting animosities. Political candidates and party leaders, experts in their alertness to this feature (ahem, bug?), will maneuver to win votes by appealing to the emotions that bubble to the top during campaign season. Power and policies ensue.

Loren’s concerns accentuate the importance of imposing republican structures upon democracy as an antidote to demagogue disease. Good old fashioned checks and balances, multiple layers/nodes of elected office, and other mechanisms of limited government, please answer the white telephone. Winston Churchill is calling.

About Loren Lomasky: Loren Lomasky is Cory Professor of Political Philosophy, Politics, and Law and the University of Virginia. Professor Lomasky is best known for his work in moral and political philosophy. His book Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community (Oxford University Press, 1987) established his reputation as a leading advocate of a rights-based approach to moral and social issues. He is also co-author of Democracy and Decision: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference (Cambridge University Press, 1993), a landmark work about the effects of voting in democracies. In his 2016 article, “Fleecing the Young,” Lomasky makes the case for more intergenerational fairness in U.S. budget policies that currently enrich older generations while handing young people the bill. For more than four decades, Lomasky has taught undergraduate and graduate classes in the philosophy of religion, medieval philosophy and other episodes in the history of philosophy as well as many topics in moral and political philosophy. He has held research appointments sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Center for the Study of Public Choice, the Australian National University, and the Social Philosophy and Policy Center. He has been the recipient of many awards including the American Philosophical Association’s Matchette Prize for the best book in philosophy.

Top 5 Reasons to Attend the Fireside Chat with Ken Langone

Top 5 Reasons to Attend the Fireside Chat with Ken Langone

Business icon, philanthropist, and Cashiers resident Ken Langone is coming to WCU for a fireside chat on Monday October 22 from 5:00-6:15 p.m. Here are five reasons to check it out.

1. A great story. Ken grew up poor in Long Island and rose to business success with a lot of hard work, good luck, and help from his friends. Along the way he co-founded The Home Depot, built a top Wall Street investment firm, and became one of America’s major philanthropists. There’s more to Ken’s story here.

2. A local voice. Ken and Elaine Langone have a home in Cashiers, and this is their first time visiting WCU. So this is a great chance to hear from a local voice, and to see more of what WCU is all about.

3. Networking. Mingle with others from WNC’s business, government, and non-profit sectors. Tell your story too!

4. Funny, warm, and entertaining. Ken’s story is full of F words. And not just that F word, either. His new book is all about Family, Faith, Friends, and Freedom. This fireside chat promises to be funny, warm, and entertaining all around.

5. Free. This event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 4:30. Registration is recommended, just visit langone.wcu.edu.

 

Ken Langone: Up Close and Personal

On Monday October 22, CSFE is hosting business icon and philanthropist Ken Langone as he visits WCU for the first time. Ken and I will do a fireside chat to discuss stories and ideas from his new memoir, I Love Capitalism: An American Story. I hope that people who attend, especially WCU’s students, will like it.

Ken’s new book tells his story of growing up poor in Long Island and rising to business success through hard work, good judgment, helping others, and especially being helped by others. In reading Ken’s book, I noticed he uses lots of F words. Sure, there are some F bombs along the way (it’s hard to tell a rough-and-tumble story without sprinkling some of those in). But the F words that stood out to me were other ones:

Campus Theme Logo

  • Family. The cornerstone of Ken’s book is family. We see this especially in the opening and closing chapters, where Ken talks about the unconditional love received from his parents, the tender story of his lifetime partnership with his wife Elaine, the lessons learned from his brother’s all-too-brief life, and also Ken’s own story as a father of two sons. This is intimate stuff. It brings us close to Ken the person.
  • Faith. Also intimate are Ken’s descriptions of his faith, having been a devout Catholic since boyhood. “I have a routine every morning,” he writes. “I get up and brush my teeth and, still in my pajamas, go off in a quiet corner of the house for twenty minutes with my Bible and a Bible study guide and pray.” Ken’s faith seems to show at many points along the way, for example where his sense of judgment separated good deals like Home Depot and EDS from bad deals like Bernie Madoff, and how he found inner strength during times of adversity and failure. Not every capitalist has religious faith. But Ken does.
  • Friends. Even though he says he’s not a humble type, Ken gives enormous credit to his friends who have helped him along the way. “There’s one very important point I want to make right at the beginning of this book: the thing I can’t say and never will say is that I’m self-made,” Ken writes. “To make that claim would be to commit a grave sin against all the many, many people who helped me get to where I am.” He tells many stories of friends along the way, how they opened doors and taught him lessons, and how they frequently locked arms, occasionally patted backs, and always thanked each other. He also talks about friends who he’s helped, like his driver of twenty-six years, Alvaro Gallego, who has succeeded in business as well.
  • Freedom. The book isn’t only a memoir. It’s part manifesto, too. Ken wants people, especially people just getting their start, to embrace his positive message of hope, integrity, hard work, and success. But he says none of this would matter if it weren’t for the wide-open opportunity, and responsibility, that are provided by America’s system of economic freedom. This system rewards productivity and allows recovery from failure: “Capitalism works, but you’ve got to make the effort, and you’ve got to be able to take the lumps.” The system is not perfect, not even close, but it’s better than any other: “We all have different talents. We are not all equal… But we know capitalism brings better lives than socialism does.” The system also lets people who exercise good judgment and treat others with justice to succeed beyond their wildest dreams: “I can’t think of one deal I’ve ever done where I couldn’t have gotten more out of it than I did… But it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you look beyond sheer profit to getting buy in by other people… One of the most important lessons in my life is this: leave more on the table for the other guy than he thinks he should get. And one of the most important rules in capitalism is incentive.”

Why does Ken Langone love capitalism? Sure, because it allowed him to succeed, get rich, and become a major philanthropist. But also, maybe even more so, because it enables countless other success stories. “You want my philosophy in a nutshell?” Ken writes. “I want everybody to do well. The world is a lot more fun if we’re all rich instead of just some of us.”

As an egghead economist, I don’t see things exactly the same as Ken does. I wouldn’t say that I love capitalism. But as I wrote on this blog’s inaugural post, I do think that civil and economic freedom, as embodied in the system of free enterprise, provide the best sets of rules for channeling individuals’ pursuit of their own well being toward social betterment. Each of us has our own definitions of success — our own pictures of what makes a good life. What unites us is freedom. Freedom is what fundamentally allows us to flourish as individuals and to progress as societies. This point lies at the very heart of CSFE’s mission.

There couldn’t be a better time for Ken’s first visit to WCU. This year’s campus theme is “Defining America” — just browse the campus theme website for a few minutes, and look at the enormous variety of activities, projects, and events that tie into the campus theme. WCU is an incredibly vibrant place! I can’t think of a better time to hear from Ken Langone’s incredibly vibrant voice, and I’m both delighted and proud that CSFE is hosting his fireside chat. Please think about attending. You can register on our event page at Langone.wcu.edu.

Thank you, and let me know if you have any thoughts on this post. You can reach me any time at ejlopez@wcu.edu.

Siri Terjesen at Free Enterprise Speaker Series

I have been organizing the Free Enterprise Speaker Series (FESS) since I arrived here at WCU in 2012. I inherited it from my good friend Steve Miller, who was on faculty here with me for three years and is the reason I moved here from San Jose State. Over the years our speakers have included Amity Shlaes, Peter Boettke, Virginia Postrel, Ben Powell, Don Boudreaux, Robert A. Levy, Fernando Tesón, Robert Lawson, Sandra Peart, Loren Lomasky, Jeffrey Tucker, Jason Brennan, Radley Balko, Michelle Vachris, and more. We have covered economic freedom, free trade, the ethics of eating meat, globalization, virtue ethics, libertarianism, tax reform, police militarization and more. And we’ve had thousands of people attend. It’s been both a pleasure and an expansion of my own education to participate in FESS. And I could not be more excited to welcome our next guest speaker, Professor Siri Terjeson of American University and the Norwegian School of Economics.

Siri is a management professor who is very active in publishing (see her Google Scholar page). Her research takes a cross-country approach to issues that include social entrepreneurship, women on corporate boards, and more. Her work helps to make systematic comparisons and analyses of topics that are frequently studies using case studies of single markets and countries. Her talk tonight will focus on some of her better-known cross-country research on social entrepreneurship. She will record a 15-20 podcast with me later today, which we’ll make available here on our new website, and her lecture will be live streamed on our Facebook. Welcome Siri, and thanks for coming!

 

Director’s Welcome

Welcome to the Director’s blog here on the CSFE website. Even a few minutes of browsing will show that there is a broad range of content on this site. This breadth reflects the Center’s tremendous growth since launching in early 2017. After its first year and a half, nearly 100 people have participated in Center-supported projects, and student attendance at Center events is approaching the 1,000 mark. In our first complete academic year, we built a range of programs from scratch, including our successful teacher-training seminar last April, the new University Distinguished Speaker Series launching this fall, and more. We also expanded pre-existing programs such as the Free Enterprise Speaker Series now in its eleventh year. And we’re just getting started!

As we continue to grow, we will be guided by the principles of academic freedom/responsibility, intellectual humility, and the rules laid out in our governing documents. These include the charter that WCU’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved to establish the Center, the Center’s bylaws, and policies of WCU and of the UNC System that govern centers and institutes.

At its core, the Center’s mission is to support student-faculty projects that advance economic development and promote understanding of free enterprise. Free enterprise is a broad term that encompasses many sorts of voluntary association, both in market settings and in civil society. This blog will “unpack” the meaning of free enterprise over time. For now, I want to stress that free enterprise does not mean pro-business, nor does it mean anti-government. These simple characterizations bypass a true understanding the capacity, and limits, of free enterprise to contribute to a flourishing society. If anything, free enterprise means pro-freedom — namely, the freedom for all people to compete in markets and cooperate in civil society.

An important example is the recent Supreme Court Case, North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, and a related case Sensational Smiles v. Mullen. At issue is whether: a) prospective dental service providers should have the right to offer teeth-whitening services without a dental license; or b) incumbent dentists with licenses should be granted the exclusive right to offer teeth-whitening services. Taking a pro-business stance does nothing to resolve this issue, because you’re left with the dilemma of choosing between two business interests, incumbent firms or new entrants. Likewise, being anti-government misses the whole point because regardless of which side wins, it is a government court that decides the issue, and it is the administrative arm of government that enforces the ruling. The free enterprise perspective takes a more holistic and coherent approach.

Free enterprise does not pretend that businesses are heroes or that government agents are wizards. As I wrote in my first published article back in 1997, it is more useful to assume that businesses will attempt to restrict their competition by monopolizing markets (as Adam Smith taught in 1776), even if many principled business people would not do so. And it is more useful to assume that government agents will misuse power, if only because they lack the contextual knowledge and incentives to use if toward the desired social end. Indeed, both of these arguments were brought forward in the recent dental licensing cases, which is one reason courts had such a hard time ruling on them.

Instead, free enterprise asks: given the desired end of balancing the state’s legitimate interest in protecting public health and safety against the people’s freedom to participate gainfully in markets and civil society, what are the best rules (i.e. what are the best institutional arrangements) to channel individuals’ pursuit of their own well being toward social betterment? I started the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise to bring this perspective forward, to support research and education projects into the many ways of posing this question, and to help fulfill Western Carolina University’s commitment to supporting economic and community development in the state, the region, and beyond. Critics have said that I am just putting nice window dressing on a hard-core free-market agenda. That’s a hasty reaction. Instead, intentionally render the Center’s agenda in a centrist because the Board of Trustees established CSFE as a University wide Center, and one goal that I have as Director is to include projects from all five colleges and every major on campus. I aim to use this blog to highlight these projects, and I hope readers come back frequently for updates. Thank you for coming.