I think that John Benjamin’s attack on business schools in The New Republic is misplaced or at least inadequate. He’s critical of them because a) they don’t consider broader societal implications and b) they’re a monoculture:
But in truth, MBA programs are not the open forums advertised in admissions brochures. Behind this façade, they are ideological institutions committed to a strict blend of social liberalism and economic conservatism. Though this fusion may be the favorite of American elites—the kinds of people who might repeat that tired line “I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative”—it takes a strange form in business school. Elite business schooling is tailored to promote two types of solutions to the big problems that arise in society: either greater innovation or freer markets. Proposals other than what’s essentially more business are brushed aside, or else patched over with a type of liberal politics that’s heavy on rhetorical flair but light on relevance outside privileged circles.
It is in this closed ideological loop that we wannabe masters of the universe often struggle to think clearly about the common good or what it takes to achieve it. Today’s MBA programs, insofar as they churn out graduates riveted to this worldview, limit the vision of future leaders at a time when public dissatisfaction with business and its institutions makes our complacency a danger.
I wonder what profession or sector would meet the standards Mr. Benjamin holds up? Do physicians routinely consider the global social implications of treating Patient A as opposed to Patient B? I know what an old boss of mine would say. “If I consider the global social implications, next quarter some other guy is going to be sitting in this chair who looks at the corporate earnings implications.”
My own criticism would be somewhat more basic and, in some ways, more realizeable. I’m not convinced that the strategies that would be effective for managing an automobile manufacturing company are the same as would be effective for an insurance company as would be the same for a software development company. IMO understanding the industry you’re working in is vital to making a good decision—decisions can’t be abstracted from circumstances.
The one area in which they can is finance and that’s why there’s a powerful temptation to turn every company into a financial holding company.