Why do professors deplore enterprise?

From an open letter to students who want to go into business:

I experience the hunger in the world for the privilege of creating jobs through entrepreneurship, and then I return to the United States, where I see something that troubles me.

Some students and professors reject business as a morally responsible way to spend one’s life. The issue I have is not that some people would rather work in the public sector (government) or the social sector (nonprofit work), but that they assign a higher moral calling to these two sectors than to the private sector (business).

As a college student, you are attempting to gain the knowledge, skills, networks, and inspiration to live a happy, productive, and meaningful life. I like to think of each of you as one unit of creative potential. Looking at it this way means that faculty members are more than dispensers of knowledge. They are guides along your journey, teaching the subjects, passing along beliefs and biases, hopefully inspiring you, and challenging you, to consider the types of people you will become.

Some professors attempt to influence you toward those biases. Some think dismissively of business, for instance, as if society would be better off without it, or they assign pernicious motivations to those who lead businesses. Throughout history, social experiments to this end have failed. Every day, these professors use and benefit from the products and services of business: Google, bookstores, clothing, transportation, and the local coffee shop. They fail to differentiate between business leaders and dismiss the whole sector as greedy, uncaring, and destructive. Yet, even with much evidence of greed and wrongdoing in the public and social sectors, that same categorical condemnation is not present.

In fact, you can make a vital contribution in any of the three sectors, because all three are needed for a society to function well. (If just one sector is weak or absent, the result is usually a failed state. Think of the former communist states that tried doing away with private business, or the chaotic warlord states without effective government.)

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That open letter was written by Judith Cone, Vice President, Emerging Strategies at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a wonderful foundation dedicated to the development of entrepreneurship. The head of the foundation is Carl Schramm — I highly recommend his talk at the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series.