College & Capitalism

Emily Reese- Period 1

Remember that college with a six percent acceptance rate that you didn’t get into?  Maybe you blamed it on the fact that you only took seven honors classes a year instead of eight.  Or maybe it was that you were in only twenty one extracurricular clubs instead of twenty two.  Or you may have blamed it on the possibility that your entire application wasn’t reviewed as thoroughly as it should have been.  Regardless of whether you blamed this denial on an internal or external factor, you were most likely extremely frustrated.  All of these reasons seem like good reasons to project your frustration onto—but should this frustration really be directed at capitalism?

In a country where two thirds of high school graduates go to a college or university, one would definitely be in the minority if he or she opted out of college.[1]  At a school like Ursuline Academy of Dallas, 100% of the graduates go on to attend a college or university.  How would you like to be the first one on the graduation bulletin that says “Will not attend college”?  Some people have started to advocate for not attending college but the majority of the time, those people are met with harsh criticisms and strong disapproval.[2]  Ludwig von Mises, an Austrian economist and strong proponent of capitalism, argues that an essential part of capitalism includes possessing the right to dissent.[3]  Could we possibly argue that this high rate of students that choose to attend a university in our capitalistic society make dissenting an action that is not deemed as socially acceptable and set us up for feelings of failure?

You may say “It doesn’t matter what’s ‘socially acceptable’! People should be able do whatever they want without worrying about what other people think.” Yes, of course that idea is great in theory but we are humans and social pressures undoubtedly influence our decisions.  Also, shouldn’t a capitalistic society provide the means for us to comfortable to do what we want?

America, as a society, has come to adopt the notion that if one does not go to college or even does not get into the elite college that he or she wishes, he or she is a failure.  This idea is a product of the intense competition brought on by capitalism.  In a capitalistic society, the government does not dictate people’s career and life paths but rather leaves it up to them to decide what they would like to do with their lives.  When so many people want the same thing, the competition for that thing intensifies.  And when one loses the competition for a spot for a university, he or she is bound to feel like a failure.  So, if you’re going to feel like a failure if you don’t go to college and also if you don’t get into your top university, we could seemingly argue that capitalism sets us up for these feelings of failure. (But remember, feelings of failure and actual failure are two different scenarios.)  This notion seems to relate to the statement that Karl Marx made when he said that what the “bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave diggers.”[4]  People living in a capitalistic society could be seen as their own “mental grave diggers” who dig the grave for themselves by setting extremely high expectations for themselves but then not being able to achieve those high-achieving goals because the capitalistic competition pushes them out.

But what is the better alternative to this capitalistic society? One alternative would be to create a society that dictates what you are to do after high school.  This would be the communist alternative.  Here, there is no class system—just the government who dictates all aspects of life and the people who obey.  Karl Marx and Frederich Engels wrote a manifesto called the “Manifesto of the Communist Party” that supported this type of society where the government dictates live and everything is supposedly equal.  Marx states that everything prior to communism has been a class struggle where the oppressed fight the oppressors.  But with communism there is no oppressor and oppressed and “in place of old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, [there is] intercourse in every direction… in material.. and in intellectual production… and intellectual productions become common property.”[5]  In essence, everything is shared and the means by which it is shared is through the dictation of the government.

So here’s how the communist model would theoretically play out in relation to the college process: the government would choose fifty students from Ursuline, twenty students from Hockaday, thirty five students from Bishop Lynch all to go to college to study to become various doctors.  Then the government would choose ten students from Ursuline, fifteen from Hockaday, and twelve from Bishop Lynch to be shoemakers.  And so on.   In this hypothetical example, the students have absolutely no choice regarding their future education and profession.  They are denied the “right to dissent” that Ludwig von Misses argues that is an essential part of capitalism.  But also, von Mises says that the distinguishing part of capitalism that makes it so great and distinguishes it from other systems is the “mass production to satisfy the needs of the masses.” Here, the goal would be to satisfy the needs of the masses through careful planning by the government to ensure that every aspect of people’s lives was being met.  But, this system comes with a great sacrifice: freedom.  The masses could essentially not be satisfied because they are denied the right to make their own major life decisions and must unhappily live the life that the government has dictated that they will live.

Personally, I do not believe that there is a better alternative to the current capitalistic system that America has.  I do not believe that freedom is worth the sacrifice.  Yes, it may set us up for feelings of failure and may at first seem like a lose-lose situation, but it also grants us freedom.  In addition, failure is a great experience for the long run because it teaches what does and does not work and creates an experience where we can learn from our mistakes so to not be repeated.  Failure is an essential part of life that helps us eventually succeed.  In fact, some extremely influential and successful people in society today were rejected from their top pick college.  For example, Antonin Scalia, a recently deceased Supreme Court judge, was rejected from his number one pick, Princeton.  Steven Spielberg was also rejected from film school at his top choices, UCLA and the University of Southern California.  Harry S. Truman was also rejected from his dream school, West Point, when he was applying for college.[6]  As can be seen, a rejection from a school may create feelings of failure in the short term but most definitely does not doom us to a life of failure.

Our current system capitalistic system regarding colleges does do a wonderful job of creating the “mass production to satisfy the needs of the masses,”[7] as Ludwig von Mises describes as the characteristic feature that distinguishes it from other methods.  It does create an educated society where everyone can get some type of education with enough hard work and determinism, even if that education might not be the top pick.  Even though it leads us to a narrow minded view that encompasses some degree of failure in many scenarios, it grants us so much freedom to do as we please and eventually achieve whatever goal we set our mind to.  And even though it greatly limits the likelihood that people will dissent from the common practice of going to a college or university, it does not take away that right to dissent.

[1] Norris, Floyd. “Fewer U.S. Graduates Opt for College After High School.” The New York Times, April 25, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2016.

[2] Altucher, James. “10 More Reasons Why Parents Should Not Send Their Kids to College.” Business Insider, January 30, 2011. Accessed May 1, 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/10-more-reasons-why-parents-should-not-send-their-kids-to-college-2011-1.

[3] Von Mises, Ludwig. “Liberty and Property.” How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch. Accessed May 1, 2016.

[4] Engels, Friedrich. Marx, Karl. “Manifesto of the Communist Party.” How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch. Accessed May 1, 2016.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Daugherty, Greg. “7 Really Famous People Who Were Rejected by Their Dream Colleges.” TIME, March 8, 2016.

[7] Ibid.

Picture: “Mail from Colleges – Homeschool Success.” Homeschool Success. 2015. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://homeschoolsuccess.com/mail-from-colleges/.

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2 thoughts on “College & Capitalism

  1. This post was a very interesting take on capitalism and communism. Seeing how a large scale subject like capitalism being compared to a personal subject like getting into college made it very relatable to any high school student or even college student. I agree that the capitalist system in getting into college is much better than the communist approach. Failure is better than a lack of freedom! -Jenna Sharp Period 1

  2. this post was very informational. I had never thought about the effect that different government structures could have on something like college. I think that it is very important that our capitalist nation allows us freedom in college and career choices. -Samantha Kilpatrick Period 3

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