The Benefits of Graduating into a Free Enterprise Economy

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A business school dean says American students are fortunate to be graduating into a free enterprise system.

Graduation season has drawn to a close. The new graduates are filled with a mix of excitement and apprehension at successfully completing their schoolwork, leaving the University and joining the “real world.”

These graduates have an incredible benefit that many do not even think about. They are graduating into a (mostly) capitalist, free enterprise economic system, with all the freedoms, and all the challenges, that implies. 

Individual liberty and personal freedom – including the freedom to decide about schooling and the careers we pursue – is a deeply rooted part of the American sensibility. This freedom brings with it the need to make choices about how to invest in themselves – how to build their own human capital – as well as the responsibility for those choices. Will they be engineers, school teachers, accountants, nurses, web designers or entrepreneurs? Will they join the military?  Will they go on to graduate school, law school, or medical school? 

These choices aren’t easy, but the idea that they would not be free to make these choices for themselves would horrify most Americans.

While there are many opportunities, there are few guarantees. Schools, professors and counselors can open doors to help students get an interview, but they cannot get them a job. It is up to each graduate to convince an employer that they are the right person for that particular position.

Everyone entering today’s job market needs to think about what job considerations they find most important. It’s much more than just money. How many hours are you willing to work? Where do you want to live? Are there family considerations? Do you believe in the organization? How much, and what kind of education do you need?

The dreams and aspirations of each graduate will differ, and that is wonderful. It is up to each individual to choose, and then enjoy the fruits of the choices they have made.

The dreams and aspirations of each graduate will differ, and that is wonderful. It is up to each individual to choose, and then enjoy the fruits of the choices they have made.
So as we finish graduation season I think it useful to reflect on the freedoms we have and remember part of our larger purpose at the University – the key role we play in a free society. We are here to educate our students and help create opportunities in our communities. We are here to advance knowledge through our research. When we do this well, we support a vibrant economy and thriving society.

As Dean of one of the top-20 largest AACSB Business Schools in the United States, it is increasingly clear to me that many Americans do not understand the basic principles of a free enterprise system—how free markets bring people of many backgrounds into harmonious and mutually beneficial interaction. Too many pundits, politicians and professors seem confused, mistakenly believing that long-term business success is primarily a result of the exploitation of their customers. This is simply wrong. Treating your customers, employees, and suppliers with honesty and integrity—producing quality goods and services efficiently enough so that your prices beat your competition and still make profits—that is the way to build a successful, sustainable business.

In recent years we have heard that our American free enterprise economic system is inherently unfair, and that the American dream is a myth; that one can no longer get a reasonably priced education, get a good job and move ahead in this country. 

I disagree.

And I suggest this—ask the average citizen who has actually lived under socialism how that system is working out for them, especially the poor in Argentina, in Venezuela, in Cuba, in North Korea. Then ask why so many people seek more freedom and better economic opportunities here in America.

This is the land of opportunity. It is not easy, but our business students demonstrate it every day, working hard, getting better jobs after graduation, or starting their own companies. 

As long as we do not take our free enterprise system for granted, and keep our focus on actions that expand this core American value of freedom, I believe that our future will be even brighter than it is today.

Daniel Gropper is the Dean of the College of Business at Florida Atlantic University.

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