BB&T Capitalism

“In the midst of the deepest and longest recession since the Great Depression, when business is under near constant attack from government and the public, the study of capitalism is timely and relevant. In our course, through readings, discussions, and outside speakers, we hope to provide students with an understanding of what capitalism is, how it functions, and what its moral underpinnings are.”
-Dr. Jody Lipford

When we learned the business department was offering a capitalism course, we were excited and intrigued, but did not know what to expect. Rather than being structured as a traditional college class, it was scheduled to be taught jointly by Dr. Jody Lipford, Dr. Suzie Smith, Dr. Jerry Slice, Mrs. Cindy Lucking, and Mr. Samuel Howell. In retrospect, having these business professors teach the class in a team effort was very effective because they each made unique contributions stemming from their own area of expertise.

In the capitalism course, most class meetings were largely interactive discussions, as well as panel discussions. Dr. Robert Howiler and Dr. Bob Bryant strengthened the class by bringing their perspectives from philosophy and religion. Guest lecturers Robert Higgs (Senior Fellow in Political Economy and Editor for The Independent Institute), John Allison (former CEO of BB&T), Richard D’Alberto (CEO of Laurens County Hospital), Mike Ellison (Palmetto Bank), and Congressman Jeff Duncan spoke on the ideas of capitalism and related them to their life and fields of work.

Although the course is titled Capitalism—Foundations and Functions, it explores a broad spectrum of ideological topics including private property, individual freedom, the structure of and the role of government in a free enterprise system, and the correlation between objectivism and religion and the capitalist system. We cover these ideas through the writings of Ayn Rand, John Locke, Frederick Bastiat, Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, and through applicable current event articles.

The course is funded by a generous ten-year grant from BB&T that provides students with a copy of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, funds faculty and student research, provides for guest lecturers, and gives students the chance to attend a related summer program. This year, the capitalism program funded portions of Lee Kiser’s summer Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) colloquium in Bozeman, MT and Jimmy Vasiliou’s summer internship at the Fund for American Studies in Washington, DC.

The PERC colloquium allows students the chance to hear speakers and participate in discussions addressing how certain government regulations cause landowners to have less control over their private property. Kiser reported on his PERC experience, “Each day consisted of roughly two lectures and two group discussions. The discussions were mostly on readings we had done (that included Bastiat) before arriving. The lectures were from environmental economists who were experts in fields ranging from fisheries to landfills. I did not know I would ever find someone that enjoyed monetary policy more than me, but I did.”

The primary text used to convey the spirit of the class is Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. The economic and philosophical ideas presented in this book demonstrate the negative effects created by too much governmental intrusion into the private sector. The book predicts that governmental regulations stifle free markets and punish producers for their roles. Job creators and captains of industry ultimately respond by “shrugging” and leaving their work. When the producers go on strike, labor becomes leaderless, and there are no remaining resources to pay taxes and fund government. We see a direct parallel between these ideas and current events taking place in the United States and believe that the material taught in this class provides a compass that, if utilized, will point the way to a more prosperous and free nation.

In addition to the capitalism course, the grant supports research-related travel for faculty and students. Taking the course during the fall semester sparked two students to pursue capitalism-related honors projects. Mary Turney studied the relationship between corruption and economic wealth, and Amanda Bollinger researched the link between profit and environmental initiatives. Both students presented their findings at the Big South Undergraduate Research Symposium at Radford University.