Gassy Hacks and Big Quacks

Today, we recall the “commencement” at the end of four years at the University of Vermont. The university itself is imposing and a little intimidating. The rest of the world works in warehouses or common office spaces. Academia labors in hallowed “halls” and prestigious “centers.”


vermontThe path to the hallowed halls of the University of Vermont

Photo via


People in the Main Street world work for profits… and are subject to market economics. The professoriate is above it all; no profit and loss statements… no profit motives or incentive bonuses… and (for those with “tenure”) no chance of getting fired, no matter how incompetent, irrelevant, or wrong they are. The private sector depends on output and results; academia harbors gassy hacks who may never produce much of anything at all.

The ceremony on Sunday opened with the procession of the university luminati, led by bagpipers of the St. Andrews Society. Ordinary people – even presidents of the United States of America – wear common coats and ties; the academic elite are gussied up with all manner of robes, funny hats, cowls, tassels, honors… and a line of capital letters following their names like baby ducks behind a waddling quack.

“All that brainpower… working on our Justin… it must have done him some good,” parents say to themselves. Then, they have their doubts. Justin seems to think that “diversity” is what really matters,  that Bernie Sanders has the right idea, and that eating gluten is a sin.

Privately, they wonder if they haven’t just been the biggest fools on the planet, spending more than $100,000 to put their boy through four years of brainwashing,  with no visible improvement in his critical thinking. But this is no time to say anything. It’s too late. So, they take their seats, along with thousands of others. At least, those were the dark thoughts gathering in our mind as we sat in a plastic chair on the green, waiting for the festivities to begin.


thinking dark thoughtsA mind invaded by dark thoughts…

Image credit: Joseph Loughborough


Criticism and Cynicism

Mr. E. Thomas Sullivan, university president, must have seen the clouds over our head.

“Criticism and cynicism will not lead to a constructive solution,” he said, looking right at us. But criticism and cynicism are just what the University of Vermont most lacks. Without them, the Yankees allow themselves to believe any self-congratulatory bunkum that comes along.

They say on Wall Street: When everyone is thinking the same thing, no one is really thinking. That’s the problem with the institution of higher learning on the banks of Lake Champlain. If anyone is doing any thinking there, they didn’t let him say anything on Sunday.

We’re used to commencement claptrap. The typical graduation exercise is always a mixture of lies, pandering, blah-blah, and flattery. The only redeeming quality is that it is transparently insincere.

Students are told how wonderful they are. They are assured that they are now equipped to go out into the world and be “leaders.” They are urged to “maximize [their] potential.” How? “Make a difference!” Make a “positive contribution.” “Advance society…” “Advance humanity…” “Save the world…”

Whoa! How do you do that? The suggestions weren’t long in coming…

“Who here doesn’t believe that climate change is the most important challenge facing this graduating class?” asked the university president in his opening remarks. Out of thousands of arms, only a couple hands went up.


cartoon_-_GW_Causes_StuffClimate change (formerly known as “global warming”): Considering all the bad things it causes, it is no wonder that it has been identified as the “most important challenge”…

Cartoon by Glenn McCoy

Mr. Sullivan hardly needed to ask. For him and the rest of the jury, no further deliberations were necessary. The verdict has already been rendered. No need for any more evidence, testimony, or eyewitnesses. The matter was settled. There was not a single dissent. Not a single question.

If there were any doubts about the difference between good and evil, or who should be elected president…none were mentioned; or how the world works… it was nowhere to be seen.


I Care, Therefore I Am

Students were cited for special recognition, awards were given, speeches made, on and on, hour after hour. One student was lauded for his contributions to “eliminating racism”… Another was “building communities”… Still another was congratulated for his efforts to “save the world”… Another was supporting “gender confirmation surgery”…

Every one of them was a world improver. Every one “cared.” And every one of these inchoate idealists had a ticket to government employment. Only one will definitely not find a nest among the zombies – one whose degree was awarded posthumously.

“I care, therefore I am,” suggested Gail Sheehy, who gave the keynote address and neatly summed up the event’s leitmotif. “Caring” is all you need to do. You must care about the poor, the excluded, the politically correct victims left behind by modern cutthroat capitalism.


tim doesn't give a shitTim on the other hand doesn’t care…

Image via


Don’t worry about whether caring actually makes a damned bit of difference. Don’t concern yourself whether meddling in others’ lives really helps them.  Ignore Adam Smith’s insight that it wasn’t his love for humanity that got the baker up at 4 a.m. to warm his ovens.

Most likely, Smith was right; world improvement is a by-product of trying to improve your own life, not trying to change the world itself.  And Friedrich Hayek was probably right, too; trying to improve the world by inflicting your ideas on others does more harm than good. But at UVM, all you gotta do is care! And if you don’t care; you don’t exist.


A Strange and Hostile New World

No student was encouraged to bake better bread. None was rewarded for improving the internal combustion engine. Not a single one was recognized for anything that might demonstrably and convincingly make peoples’ lives better.

Instead, the caring alumnae leave the university like drunks leaving a bar after closing time, their judgment impaired by the heady fumes of do-goodism.

Will the world really be a better place a year from now… or two years… or however long it takes for these “carers” to work their magic?

We don’t know. But you’d think that a university would be a good place to at least ask.


Image captions by PT


The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.




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One Response to “The Biggest Fools on the Planet”

  • wmbean:

    The other important characteristic the university lacks is a sense of humor. I was dis-enrolled from a masters program in engineering one class short of the degree. Seems I hadn’t bothered to earn the bachelor’s degree first and had the temerity to pull a 4.0 GPA in all the master’s courses. The university even turned all my units into adult education units of little value. Obviously they “cared” about the quality of their educational outcomes.

    Yes, the university and college systems used to turn out leaders because they graduated so few of them. But now that we are in the age of all children must go to and graduate with a degree, who is left to be a follower? Like the old saying in the service, too many chiefs and not enough braves to fight the battle. I would believe that today’s university teaches the herding of cats as leadership with graduate studies in advanced string pushing.

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