Thursday, February 06, 2003

An old nugget found anew 

My wife was looking for a speech to give in a vocal presentation course for theater and asked me what I'd recommend. "And no Rand!" she added. I dug up instead this old nugget by Benjamin Rogge who was once the dean at Wabash College, and a fine economist to boot. This speech as I recall it was given at the outset of students' college careers. Titled "The Promise of the College" and including a favorite quote from George Stigler -- "The typical college catalogue would never stop Diogenes in his search for an honest man." -- it concludes with a great story and a great lesson in classic Rogge style. What we teach in college is discernment.
Words are the raw material of knowledge and in fact, of much of life, and they deserve to be treated with respect. The educated person will always attempt to use them carefully and precisely and to demand of those who would communicate with him that they do the same. He will have learned that words can be used to inform or to deceive or to inspire or to confuse or to manipulate or to set into action�and will examine each important word used by another with the care and the suspicion with which an oriental peasant examines the fruit in a street market. When he finds a false one, he will reject it as convincingly as one of my favorite heroines of modern literature�and with this I reach the end.

This favorite heroine of mine is a little girl in an old cartoon in the New Yorker magazine. She is being force-fed by her mother, but is obviously rejecting whatever it is that is being offered her. Finally, in desperation, her mother says to her, "But dear, it's broccoli." At this, the little three-year-old girl in her high chair looks her mother in the eye and replies, "I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it!"

May the next years be exciting and productive for you, and as you go on through life, may you gradually come to the knowledge of the difference between broccoli and spinach, and may you acquire the courage to challenge those who confuse the two.
While I'm at it, let me plug as well The Library of Economics and Liberty, and the blog of Arnold Kling that resides there. This is a treasure trove of classical liberalism and free market economics. I've lost an hour on that site more than once.