The news is full of stories about how much money the greedy bankers and corporate titans have taken from regular Americans. I am a capitalist and so I do not trouble myself with the question. But having worked in corporate America, and seen first-hand the many meaningless jobs that are performed there, I have a different, more human question. How much value has our society lost because of corporate America?
By value, I mean human talent, not monetary value. Think about this: America’s largest banks and corporations regularly recruit the best and the brightest young people from our top universities. But these young people are not recruited for their ability to become corporate automatons; they are intelligent humans with human abilities: the ability to get good grades, to understand business and succeed in corporate environments, yes – but also to make music, to dance, to play sports, to create art and literature, to act and sing. They are well-rounded people with other interests besides fulfilling a narrow corporate role. They were picked up by corporate America because of all their God-given talent and intelligence, only to be placed into a narrowly defined, repetitive office job that occupies them 40-50 hours a week in the prime time of their young lives. So I ask the question in purely economic terms: at what opportunity cost to society have these young minds been thus employed? “Opportunity cost” is often defined as the ‘cost’ of the best foregone alternative; the opportunity cost of going to college, for example, is the money that could have been earned in the highest-paying job one could get with only a high school diploma. So in these stark terms, I ask the question: for all the pure monetary value that our young corporate Americans have produced, what has been lost in terms of all the non-monetary contributions they could have otherwise made in all the different fields in which they might have endeavored, were it not for lucrative corporate jobs? In other words, what else has corporate America taken from us by occupying these talented young people in full-time corporate capacities? How many latent Beethovens, Michael Jordans, Jackson Pollacks, Kurt Vonneguts or Jacques Cousteaus have failed to come to fruition because they labored safely in some stable career of the modern era – careers that did not exist in our harsher, less developed past? What human contributions has corporate America eliminated in exchange for all the wealth, goods and services it has produced?
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