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Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.

Brainwashed Nation

I found the news about the bonuses unbelievable, incredible, and, as the President said, shameful behavior. It reminded me, as I am sure it reminded others, of the automobile executives flying in their private jets to beg for bailouts from economy class elected representatives.

I do believe that these executives live in a world totally divorced from that of most average people, and, indeed most wealthy people. Knowing this, they should at the very least have a kitchen cabinet with which to consult "How will it look if I redo the office
for over one million dollars?" Or "What will I tell the reporter from the WSJ or CNN?" And if there are no good answers that will satisfy the average person, then for God's sake don't do it.

But I've also learned that the notion that "markets are inherently good and self corrective," and "if you make it, legally or slippery, you should be allowed to keep it," are deeply ingrained in the American psyche. I trace this back to the beginning of the Reagan era and running right through until a year ago. And it may go back much further and much deeper. Two years ago, I wrote an article for Foreign Policy magazine, arguing that no American should be allowed to keep more than four million dollars a year (100X more than average yearly income); anything above that should be given to charity or returned to the government. Further, I argued that no one should be allowed to pass on more than fifty times this ($200,000,000.00) to their progeny. Again, they could make more but any 'overage'; would go to philanthropy or Uncle Sam.

From the reaction, in writing and on talk radio, you would have thought that I had endorsed child beating or pedophilia. Rich or poor, Joe the plumber or Joe the billionaire, almost no one had positive things to say about what seemed to me to be Reasonable and Right. I don't think that would have been the reaction fifty years ago-- but we have been brainwashed to think that no amount of money is enough, and no amounts of bonuses or self pampering are excessive.

And so, while most of us are repelled today by the obscene bonuses paid to companies that needed our money to be bailed out, I am not holding my breath until some limits are imposed on greedy salaries and unlimited bonuses. And indeed, I am not holding my breath before Harvard University decides to limit its managers to the same salary as the president of the University, or even to ten times the salary of the president.

By Howard Gardner

 |  February 2, 2009; 10:13 AM ET
Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Mr. Gardner,
I congratulate you on continuing J. Swift's example of modest proposals.

To encourage enactment of your modest proposal ('...anything above that should be given to charity or returned to the government.'), I suggest that a significant portion of the funds be earmarked to that most worthy of causes: Congressional election campaign funds.


Posted by: PatrickDunn234 | February 6, 2009 12:17 PM
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Mr. Gardner, I am not at all surprised by the outrage your argument for capping earnings engendered. Somehow, the people who are most hurt by the current scenario have been hoodwinked/mollified by those who benefit from it.

You really bring up a good point -- how much money does someone really need? If for one year, I could make the multimillion dollar incomes of the top CEO/athlete/movie star, I would be set for life with plenty left over to leave my children and grandchildren.

The value put upon some of these jobs is vastly out of proportion to their actual societal contribution. It is time we truly valued things that benefit everyone such as good health, educated people, jobs that pay at least living wages, and a clean environment.

Posted by: MarketResearcher | February 4, 2009 5:18 PM
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Mr. Gardener, thanks for your article. Were is as simple as speaking to one's friends who kept one's feet on the ground, I think we would not be in our current mess. I think we all need to admit that very few of us have even a saintly cell in our bodies; that most of us will drop our drawers in the middle of the street for some amount of money. Do not misunderstand me, I am not interested in falling into some endless, fruitless dialectic; but I would like for us all to start to understand how corrupting our materialistic system really is. When we worship money and possessions, actually valuing our fellow humans by financial standards; we create what we are now experiencing. There are ways to police people within a materialistic society, but that means moving to a paradigm that sees all of us as guilty until proven innocent; and funding an army of auditors and investigators who are constantly also being audited and investigated. I fear that rather than actually admitting to our baser instincts as human animals, we will see America move yet again to comfortable homilies and religion, as we did during Mr. Reagan's reign. I have to say to you, Mr. Gardner, it would be terribly unwise for you to hold your breath in hopes that our elites will accomplish anything that even approaches real reform. I suspect this problem we have with our honesty about our corrupt individual characters is akin to the problem alcoholics have with their booze. Until we all are devastated; until we are all brought to our knees; and until we all bottom out and admit that we have a problem for which all our old solutions are ineffective will we see any change in this country. Then I suspect we will all realize that it really is time for us to take responsibility for ourselves, take back the act of governing ourselves from the ruling class we created out of our laziness.

Posted by: jel1955 | February 4, 2009 9:00 AM
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