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Contrasting Bill Gates with LeBron James and Mother Teresa, he said that we accept huge salaries for sports heroes because we can conceptualize what they do. “We all shoot baskets, and we know how bad we are at it.” Public opinion is that corporate officers do not deserve their rewards because few people actually operate businesses. Moreover, our culture has a dominant morality of altruism and unselfishness; and business is all about self-interest.
He then engaged the audience to identify the virtues required by the marketplace. Hard work honesty, discipline, persistence, long-range thinking, and justice were offered; and he expanded on each. He summed them up with the virtue of passion. “Business is all about self-interest,” he said.
In the popular mind, Brook said, the worst thing about Bill Gates is that he enjoys charity. “We would prefer that he give it all away, live in a tent, and if he could bleed a little, that would be perfect.” On the other hand, Mother Teresa is considered moral not only because her work was for others, but also because she did not enjoy it. Brook also identified guilt as a dominant motivator for charity.
Pointing to the Occupy movement, he agreed with their condemnation of crony capitalism. However, he drew from the earlier discussion to point out that few people can conceptualize what investment bankers do. We shoot baskets, so we understand LeBron James. We own computers, so we “get” Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. In order to appreciate investment capitalism, “people must be conceptual and must think about it right.” He added that in the hierarchy of production, bankers are responsible for the greatest range of value creation.
Brook urged the UT business majors to reject the morality of selflessness and to adopt a philosophy of self-interest, egoism, rationality, productivity and achievement.
During the Q&A he cited The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, by Arthur Herman. Brook identified education as the only way to reverse the trend of statism and decline. He asked his audience to think ahead to the year 2050. “It’s going to take a generation or two or three.”